Oscar Wilde’s play A Woman of No Importance is one of his two plays with the line: “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy.”
It is not just in the title – “A Woman of No Importance … Or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow” that this play, directed by Cat Robey references Wilde’s comedy of upper class manners. The tone is somewhat lower, this being middle class manners, and the action is in the modern day. It contains elements of pure hilarious farce that made for an enjoyable evening of humour. Even at the occasional weaker point, somehow, the script and the actors’ interpretations kept me laughing out loud which is as much as one can ask of a comedy on a wintry evening in north London.
Wildean references came into play several times but the writer, Katherine Rodden, at no time made the mistake of attempting to emulate his particular form of wit. Instead, his plays became the springboard for a more earthy humour that suited perfectly the setting. Rodden herself played Lauren with commendable style and enthusiasm. Her flame-headed wild, scatty love-object for the various men was complemented to total, “Oscarised” perfection by the wonderful Alan Booty as her father. It made me reflect on the sadness of the decline of repertory in the provinces. We have lost so much by that. The Paradigm Theatre Company is the only fringe rep company in London and it is to be welcomed and marveled at that it exists at all.
After savouring the pleasure of having this quality just feet away, right in front of me, which perhaps should have been expected but wasn’t, I realised I could have watched Booty all night and would travel a long way to see him in a play again. Rachel Dobell as the mother was another strong player with charisma and magnetism that, as so often happens in real life, threatened at times to take the spotlight from the impatient and much-loved daughter.
The script demanded the appearance on stage of a large number of handsome and lively young men, always a pleasure for a woman of any as well as no importance to see frolicking around in front of her. At times they were all on the small stage together at once, along with the other members of the cast, taking up various farcical positions that gave the appearance of an contortionist cast as play fighting and buffoonery was executed to the minute. The logistics were flawless. Patrick Neyman as Adrien was the most obviously handsome but almost to the point of cliche. His love rival, Simon, played by David Hemsted, was the perfect talented oik. It was fun to sit there and try and work out which one Lauren would eventually go for but I won’t give the plot away, you’ll have to go for yourself to discover the answer.
Geoffrey was skilfully acted by Matt Houlihan who showed a deft lightness of touch in bringing his “agency” to the stage as the part demanded. I felt sorry for Keith Wallis as Craig, at first, because he seemed to have so little time in front of us. But he kept reappearing. And reappearing. This was quite funny and made me laugh a lot.
This is a fringe venue, the Hen and Chickens Theatre in Islington, but it bears repeating that this cast is extraordinarily strong. Watching these actors in such an intimate environment was a reminder with every line of why theatre remains such a joy in this age of new technologies, of which there were plenty of reminders, with iPhones among other accessories supplying good comedic moments.
‘Why did you leave him?‘ ‘Because he has a new secretary.’ ‘Another new secretary?’ The language of infidelity, turning new metaphors through the ages and augmented with ‘revenge by Mastercard’, is here in full strength along with the dynamics of hurt, love and friendship. Hasn’t every woman today known a man who refuses to hear the word ‘divorce’?
Lauren is an aspiring actor and the conversation she has with her agent is masterly. The script is not faultless but fundamentally it works and once I got used to the language, and the rather large amounts of booze being consumed, I was absorbed so fully into the world of this play that I stopped noticing the excesses. The night became truly pleasurable. It came to an end all too quickly and left me wanting more.
Review by Ruth Gledhill
Wednesday 13th February 2013