"Greenwich Playhouse delivers solid production"
by Christopher Adams for remotegoat on 17/12/10

Meringue-light banter, maxims falling like a snowstorm, and the token self-parody of 'Do you really believe anything you say'- Oscar Wilde is a flavour unto his own. In the Greenwich Playhouse's production of A Woman of No Importance, an initially flabby performance suddenly turns razor-sharp with a fine exploration of the darker side of high-society life.

Director Bruce Jamieson updates Wilde's late Victorian setting to the 1950s, gambling that the same social restrictions will transfer; the bet pays off unobtrusively, and allows for some pleasant period music and Eleanor Wdowski's flattering costumes. The play opens as Lady Hunstanton (Kath Perry in a lovely, dotty performance) hosts a party populated by all the characters one would expect at an Oscar Wilde party, particularly the gossipy Lady Caroline (Darrie Gardner, deliciously relishing her lines). Hester, the 'charming American visitor' is played by Louise Tyler, who is in the unenviable position of having to portray a sweetly American-accented puritan bitch. Gerald (Hugh Darbyshire), son of Mrs. Arbuthnot (Mary Lincoln) is in love with Hester, and has just been offered employment as the secretary to Lord Illingworth (Kevin Marchant), the idle bachelor of questionable behaviour. Banter and Wilde's signature one-liners ensue (e.g. 'When good Americans die, they go to Paris'), along with some clever staging jabs: when Hester walks into the room wearing trousers, Perry's Lady Hunstanton paces to the other side of the room, covering her eyes in horror and disgust. But though the company begins strong, the production flags and loses the airy, delicate balance of the prose. Only in the more serious revelation [SPOILER ALERT!] that Gerald is the love-child of Lord Illingworth and Mrs. Arbuthnot, does the production begin to re-form.

And re-form it does. But therein lies the problem--this being a theatre above a pub, an interval for drinks is a logical necessity; however, the second 'half' was so short as to be almost laughably unbalanced. Moving the interval up by a scene would do wonders for making a more evenly proportioned show. Despite this, the second 'half' after the interval was a pleasant revelation. When stripped of the witty repartee, Wilde creates surprisingly complex characters. Having to face the aftermath of the 'Gerald, he is your father' revelation, Darbyshire, Lincoln, and Marchant shine in the taunt playing out of their characters' new-found relationships to one another. Gerald, influenced by Hester's Puritanism, wishes Illingworth to marry Mrs. Arbuthnot, as a way to neatly bow-tie the messiness of their young fling. Mrs. Arbuthnot, however, will have none of it, and Lincoln brings into sharp focus the strength of a character who knows her own mind. The scene--and the play--ends with a decisive assertion of independence. It is a thought-provoking play, and the intimate Greenwich Playhouse serves it well.

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