Although first performed in 1893, Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance still seems relevant today in its explorations of the differences between the treatment of men and women in society; particularly so in the wake of the #MeToo movement. It is quite incredible that a script written over 120 years ago can still comment on current day issues and make an audience laugh with knowing remarks about politics, all whilst serving a steady stream of Wilde’s renowned wit.
Liza Goddard is the first to get the play really moving with her entrance as Lady Hunstanton. She brings energy and presence to the stage and consistently delivers her dialogue with great timing and projection. At the opening of the play it is a slight struggle to hear some of the other cast. Mark Meadows also stands out as Lord Illingworth, giving a convincing portrayal throughout the journey of his character. The chemistry between him and Emma Amos as Mrs Allonby is particularly engaging.
The set, designed by Jonathan Fensom, is incredibly impressive and long scene changes are covered by performances of folk songs delivered front of cloth. The song arrangements by Jason Carr are enjoyable to a point but would be more so if the titles chosen were relevant or seemed to make some comment on the main action of the play. The songs are sung by the character Reverend Daubeny who is played in this performance by Tom Jude understudying for Roy Hudd. Jude has great diction, an expressive face and really makes the songs his own which is particularly notable as it is safe to assume that they were inserted into the production as a vehicle for Hudd. In the main action of the play, Jude gives a warm and very funny performance.
The play contains some long dialogue led scenes, noticeably in Act II between the female characters. It would be easy for these scenes to feel like they were lagging but the pace is kept swift by director Dominic Dromgoole. However Dromgoole’s staging sometimes leaves me feeling exasperated, as much of it places the actors upstaging themselves with their backs to the audience. One scene where this becomes irritating is the argument between mother and son Mrs Arbuthnot and Gerald Arbuthnot, played by Katy Stephens and Tim Gibson. Gibson plays most of the scene positioned in such a way that he is blocking his own face not allowing us to connect with the action or emotion. Stephens in her role delivers the dialogue nicely but without a truthfulness to the role, leaving us largely unmoved at her character’s plight. Her delivery seems to particularly jar with that of Meadows’ more believable characterisation in their scenes together. Similarly, Georgia Landers as Miss Hester Worsley gives a competent performance that is let down by an inconsistent American accent. Landers, Stephens and Gibson do not totally convince with their portrayals which is a shame as they carry the weight of the emotional climax of the play.
In conclusion, this production of A Woman of No Importance is an interesting and timely exploration of themes that still resonant with an audience today. Elements such as the set and costumes are exquisite and a joy to see. However, although it has some strong performances, these seem to jar with the style of others in the play. In much the same way as the seemingly irrelevant song choices are used, this leaves for a slightly disjointed feeling to the production as a whole.
A Woman of No Importance is on at the Theatre Royal Brighton until the 28th September. Tickets available here - https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/a-woman-of-no-importance/theatre-royal-brighton/
Review by - Tiffany Clark
(twitter - @tifflouclark)