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A Woman of No Importance at Richmond Theatre | Review

L-R Paul Rider, Meg Coombs and Katy Stephens - A Woman of No Importance (c) Robert Day
L-R Paul Rider, Meg Coombs and Katy Stephens – A Woman of No Importance (c) Robert Day

It’s one of those plays I haven’t had the privilege of seeing before, despite its longevity, though with a title like A Woman of No Importance, one wonders if there are better titled plays to revive, given the current (and long overdue) trend towards seeing women as being very much of importance. That is to say that there is no such thing as a woman of no importance just as much as there is no such thing as a man of no importance, or indeed a person of no importance, whatever gender they consider themselves to be.

This is (as far as I could tell) a solidly faithful production of an Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) play – the costumes (Jonathan Fensom) are appropriate to the Victorian era, and the people of high society often find themselves talking about things that are relatively inconsequential (perhaps even ‘of no importance’). Lady Caroline Pontefract (Isla Blair) frets over the tiniest detail with regards to her husband Sir John (John Bett), and it takes an American in the form of Hester Worsley (Georgia Landers) to lay bare Wilde’s observations about the weaknesses and double standards inherent in nineteenth-century British social circles.

Of all the talking heads that go on (and occasionally, on and on), it’s the musical interludes (not compositions by Wilde) that provide some of the evening’s most entertaining moments. Reverend Daubeny (Roy Hudd), an archdeacon, delighted the audience with music hall numbers – two by Harry Clifton (1824-1872) and one by Nat D Ayer (1887-1952) and Clifford Grey (1887-1941). It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the songs are really fillers while substantial scene changes occur behind the curtains that have come down, but it is an inventive use of downtime as well as a good demonstration of some nifty actor-musicianship.

Roy Hudd - A Woman of No Importance (c) Robert Day
Roy Hudd – A Woman of No Importance (c) Robert Day

While there is a certain charisma in Tim Gibson’s Gerald Arbuthnot and an air of confidence and assertiveness in Mark Meadows’ Lord Illingworth, it is not until Katy Stephens’ Mrs Arbuthnot arrives, after the interval, that the play feels like it might have depth and meaning after all. Still, it takes a long time before she (the alleged ‘woman of no importance’) can blurt out why it is that she’s so dead set against her son Gerald being in the employment of Lord Illingworth. The build up of tension that might have made a big revelation worth waiting for wasn’t as pronounced as it could have been.

Elsewhere, however, there is trademark Wildean wit, which the cast deliver deftly. Lady Hunstanton (Liza Goddard) gets a good line: “Poor Lord Belton died three days afterwards of joy, or gout. I forget which.” Some things never change, clearly – a line about the incompetence of the House of Commons went down well with the audience, things being what they are in the corridors of Parliament in 2019. It was also interesting to note different perspectives, such as Mrs Allonby’s (Emma Amos) observation that women “have a much better time than [men]. There are far more things forbidden to us than are forbidden to them.

There’s a happy ending of sorts – for some characters, anyway, and a pragmatic one for others. I felt there are too many characters than are strictly necessary for the narrative, and it’s not exactly Wilde’s finest play. Some impassioned and enthusiastic performances make for a satisfying experience.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

An earnest young American woman, a louche English lord and an innocent young chap join a house party of fin de siècle fools and grotesques. Nearby a woman lives, cradling a long-buried secret. In A Woman of No Importance, Oscar Wilde’s marriage of glittering wit and Ibsenite drama created a vivid new theatrical voice.

A Woman of No Importance was the first production in Classic Spring’s celebrated Wilde season in the West End, and is the first to tour the UK. Directed by Classic Spring’s Artistic Director, Dominic Dromgoole, and starring national treasure, Liza Goddard along with the much-loved Roy Hudd, Isla Blair, Emma Amos and Katy Stephens, this incredible production is sure to provoke laughter and tears wherever it goes.

Liza Goddard’s extensive stage credits include Lady Windermere’s Fan, An Ideal Husband and Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings. Her television work includes cult classics Doctor Who and Bergerac.

Roy Hudd’s plethora of work includes ITV’s Broadchurch, Huddlines on the BBC, as well as the West End hit When We Are Married.

Star of stage and screen, Isla Blair’s credits include House of Cards, Johnny English Reborn and Made In Dagenham.

Emma Amos’ previous roles have taken her from television to stage, starring in Goodnight Sweetheart on the BBC and Sweet Bird of Youth in Chichester.

Katy Stephens’ past stage productions have included Rosalind in As You Like It and the title role in Anthony and Cleopatra for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

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