Constance is billed as “a new play by Oscar Wilde”, and although there has been some insistence by Wilde’s grandson that the play is not his grandfather’s, the influence of the playwright is obvious.
The play is a standard Wildean comedy about society and class. William Daventry (James Vaughn) is a self-made man. He has the perfect wife in Constance, who has excellent family credentials. At Daventry’s country manor are various members of Constance’s family (all from the aristocracy), the Reverend Mr Preston, played with brilliant comic suppression by Bradley Cole, and his flirtatious wife.
As you would expect there are witty aphorisms and plays-on-words aplenty. Much like The Importance of Being Earnest is a play on “earnest”, Constance deals with issues of constancy and faithfulness in a relationship, with Constance being the human embodiment of the word.
The play moves along at a swift pace, oiled by the frequent amusing observations of Lady Christina (Tamara Hincho). But there are many occasions where the script struggles to stand up to the comedic expectations of a Wilde original; there are moments where the humour feels painfully forced. This could be because its translation into French, and then back into English, means that something of the spark has got lost on the way.
There are note-worthy performances from Ellie Beaven as a believably virtuous Constance and James Vaughn as the arrogant industrialist who treats life and people as a joke. And it’s a good decision by director Marc Urquhart to have only limited props on the small stage, leaving it to the actors and the script to carry us through to the all-too-predictable conclusion.
Overall it’s a perfectly entertaining evening, but there is little about this production that feels especially new or innovative. Wilde is the undisputed godfather of the comedy of manners, but I don’t think there is anything to be gained by producing this play, whatever its origins may be.