Very few politicians today need to fear the risk of a scheming woman like Mrs Cheveley entering their lives. The revelation of a long-forgotten wrong-doing would spell scandal for any esteemed member of the House of Commons; thankfully it is no longer 1895. But Sir Robert Chiltern fears just that when Mrs Cheveley arrives threatening to reveal how he laid the foundation of his charmed life by selling cabinet secrets. He has to prevent society from discovering that he is neither an ideal husband nor an ideal Victorian.
An Ideal Husband is Oscar Wilde’s most earnest satirical play. With its tale of political corruption and witty ridicule of Victorian society, it is enjoying a stylish revival at the Greenwich Playhouse, directed by Maria Chiorando.
Kate Sandison lacks enthusiasm as Lady Chiltern and Jose Domingos is equally dull as her seemingly respectable husband. But as we see the Chilterns’ perfect life disintegrate in the second act, they do well in building up the tension and shifting the emphasis from a witty comedy to a serious play.
Peter Rae injects an amoral charm into Lord Goring, acting as intermediary between the characters. His is the strongest of all the performances. His dialogue is littered with Wildean epigrams, and by his own admission that “to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance”, suggests that his is the character most close to Wilde’s heart and therefore the most charming. Full of scything verbal interplay and impeccable comedic timing, he is the driving force behind most of the laughs.
The set design is simple, as are Margaret Ellis and Louisa Reece's costumes, but the play has enough energy and enthusiasm for this not to be an issue.
The scintillating dialogue and pithy one-liners of An Ideal Husband were written over a century ago, yet they still have relevance for today's audiences. It is a pity that this production has such a short run, as it is a delight.