This latest tour of Peter Hall's 1997 West End production is a joy to behold and will engage theatregoers no less than it did four years ago. Gillian Diamond's revival exposes Oscar Wilde's political comedy of manners as so much more. For underneath the brittle wit and paradoxical observations of class values can be clearly glimpsed, as through a keyhole, the essence of Wilde's view of what makes the world go round, the tragic absurdity of life, but ultimately the love that binds us together.
An Ideal Husband concerns the machinations of an unscrupulous femme fatale in an attempt to blackmail the upright and high-flying Sir Robert Chiltern into giving government support to a spurious commercial enterprise. As result of a political indiscretion many years earlier, which has given him his wealth and position, Chiltern stands at somewhat lower level than the pedestal upon which his priggish wife has placed him. The threat of scandal looms, as does the breakdown of his marriage, should his wife discover the truth. Indeed, is he the 'ideal husband'? All is finally resolved, with the not inconsiderable help of Chiltern's friend, Lord Goring.
This is an ensemble piece and is superbly played, although Bryan Murray's Sir Robert tends to be a little stiff as a tragic hero. He's more than compensated for by Julia Watson as Lady Chiltern, particularly so at the first act curtain when, discovering the truth about her husband, her façade cracks along with her illusions.
As Mrs Chevely, the society Mata Hari, Caroline Langrish presents the right combination of seductive beauty and hard-nosed malevolence. (Note: Liza Goddard takes over this role later in the tour). The stand-out performance of this production, however, is from Patrick Rycart as Lord Goring. Languorous, world weary, and more than somewhat dissipated, both wit and wisdom roll from his lips in a succession of bon mots (eg, "To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance"), while, at the same time, his cynicism is matched by a convincing and moving display of true friendship for his friend.
Among the sparkling support, Richard Todd seems to have made Lord Caversham his own. His ease and delivery are a delight. Elsewhere, Kate Odey, as Chiltern's vain and flirtish sister Mabel, hits the mark, and Robin Browne as Goring's butler, is a real scene stealer.
Played out in Carl Tom's refreshingly uncluttered set, this show is a wonderful evening's entertainment.
To read a review of from the 1997 West End run of this production, click here