An Ideal Husband

(New Farm Nash Theatre)


Director Nigel Munro-Wallis says it is Oscar Wilde’s capacity to remain perennially relevant that make his work attractive.

An Ideal Husband involves the attempt by the wicked Mrs Cheveley (June Balfour) to blackmail the well-established bureaucrat (and ideal husband) Sir Robert Chiltern (John Ashton) in return for political favour.

Sadly, this topic is still as pertinent and caustic now as it was when Wilde wrote it more than a hundred years ago.

While the cunning wickedness is instantly recognisable, simple antique furniture on the mainly black stage reminds us that we are in another time.

And in a similar vein, the cast are clad in refreshingly simple black clothes adorned with vivid scarves, folding fans, aprons and socks to set them apart.

The sight of flamboyant slacker, Arthur Goring’s (Peter Crees) shocking-pink socks is momentarily distracting but Wilde’s wit soon grasps the fleeting minds. The audience laughs at all the right places.

Wilde ensured the dialogue was sharper than a sashimi-chef’s blade and the plot had more twists than a barrister’s wig.

An Ideal Husband reminds the young that Hollywood is not the sacred ground that conceived the comedy of never-ending disasters.

For those not familiar with the play, the Munro-Wallis makes it worthwhile to resist the temptation to read it before seeing it.

It is healthy to suffer with angst as Chiltern’s situation becomes more and more tortuous.

While the theatre is modest and the set relatively simple, the performers have enough passion and conviction to take the audience away to another place.

And that’s why theatre exists.

Sure, there were some small gaffes, but even Homer Simpson could count, on one hand, the number of times that the cast fumbled their lines.

Those purists should take a page from Arthur Goring’s book, who shocked Lady Chiltern when he was uncharacteristically serious. You must excuse me, Lady Chiltern. It won’t occur again, if I can help it.

An Ideal Husband plays at the New Farm Nash Theatre through to July 31.

— David Stuart
(Performance seen: Fri 9th July 2010)