Here are two fun facts about Oscar Wilde’s Lord Arthur Savile's Crime. Firstly (and chiefly of interest to Mancunians), it was written in the same year that the Palace Theatre, Manchester first opened its doors (1891). And secondly, the novella from which this stage version is adapted (by Trevor Baxter) was not well received by literary critics originally. Sadly, I have to say that this is one critic who would agree with his Victorian counterparts... to a point.
The story revolves around Lord Arthur (played by Lee Mead) who, just before marrying his fiancee (Louisa Clein), receives a palm reading; in his future, he will commit murder, he’s told. Terrified that the person he may kill could be his beloved, Lord Arthur reasons that, if he kills someone else first, then he and his bride can live happily ever after.
Whilst the play is by no means bad, it languishes somewhere between camp nonsense and over-the-top melodrama – as the action glides along at a brisk pace, you brace yourself for an unexpected twist that fails to materialise. That’s not to say that the evening lacks entertainment of the ‘good, old-fashioned’ variety, but you’re likely to have forgotten about most of it by the time you get home.
However, to make sure things move along nicely with tongues firmly in cheek are its game cast who never miss a beat. Making a surprisingly smooth transition from musical theatre to straight plays is Any Dream Will Do winner Lee Mead in the title role. His charismatic presence and sublimely camp toff accent proved to the audience that there is far more to him than his Technicolor dreamcoat.
There’s fantastic support from Kate O'Mara and Gary Wilmot and the rest of the cast, who deliver every line of Wilde’s snappy dialogue to perfection, pulling out the moments of humour with delicious aplomb.
Director Christopher Luscombe expertly creates the feeling of yesteryear whilst never allowing proceedings to look tired; the set designs, with their colourful and kitschy feel, sit perfectly in this world he has recreated.
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime is an enjoyable piece of escapism. It may not win any awards, but due to the game cast and Wildean bon mots, it will leave you smiling.