The brilliant reviews for An Ideal Husband made me particularly excited to see the play. As the programme comments: Oscar Wilde’s play is a ‘stylish critique of politicians and social morality’. I was immediately reminded of the J. B. Priestley play I saw a few weeks earlier, ‘When we are Married’. Both productions have a Victorian grandeur and an eloquent comedic buzz.
The action happens over forty-eight hours when a devastating political scandal about successful Government minister, Sir Robert Chilton is brought about by the conniving Mrs Cheveley. A secret from the distant past manages to turn all their lives upside down, with agonisingly hilarious consequences.
Elliot Cowan is absolutely delightful as the smug Viscount Goring. The play is a mixture of serious subject matter and farcical script and Cowan captures this combination beautifully. He strides about the stage with an air of calm charisma; he is clearly enjoying himself and that makes him very likeable. Rachael Stirling is powerful as the ‘ideal wife’ Lady Chiltern, but I found her a tad irritating to watch after a while. Stirling and her onstage husband, Alex Hanson as Sir Robert Chilton both give measured secure performances, but whenever they were on stage with Cowan my eye was immediately drawn to him. I was pleased to see Fiona Button as the chirpy Miss Mabel Chiltern, I previously saw her in TV series Lip Service and she interacts adorably with Cowan. Samantha Bond certainly causes a stir as blackmailing Mrs Cheveley, known for her part in the Bond films she is a familiar face to the audience. She occasionally stumbled over her words but is impressively powerful and commands real attention in her glorious gowns.
I found the play a little too long; the first half dragged and lacked the energy that grabbed my attention after the interval. Perhaps with a little less of the idle socialising in the first hour the play would work better. Despite this Lindsay Posner’s new production is delectable and complements the strong cast, he definitely does justice to Wilde’s piece with stunning costumes and set very reminiscent of popular BBC period dramas.
An Ideal Husband continues at The Vaudeville Theatre until 19 February 2011, book tickets here.