Writer: Oscar Wilde
Adapted by: Trevor Baxter
Director: Christopher Luscombe
Reviewer: Carol Evans
Trevor Baxter’s imaginative adaptation, directed by Christopher Luscombe, comes to the stage in the spirit of one of those typical over-the-top melodramas but without making the mistake of turning it into pantomime farce.
The set, with its colourful stage-within-a-stage proscenium arch, ‘limelight,’ placards denoting scene changes and full-on painted backdrops, was as much a main player as the actors, and added an extra dimension to this light-hearted comedy.
Added to this, we were treated to violin and piano accompaniment (between scenes and to exaggerate dramatic tension,) ironic tableaux plus grand gestures from larger-than-life characters delivering Wildean witticisms and observations.
Oscar Wilde’s story, written in 1887, is about a young posh aristo who is told by a palmist that he’s destined to commit murder at some time in his life.
Worried that the victim might turn out to be his intended, Arthur decides the dastardly deed must be done before he actually gets wed. The rest of the play is taken up with his outlandish and inept efforts to bump off various members of his illustrious family.
Lee Mead was a very likeable, tongue-in-cheek Lord Arthur, playing him more the fresh-faced, naïve young aristo than the jaunty, upper class twit I was expecting. Having wowed the public as Lloyd Webber’s Joseph (after winning the TV competition to land the Dreamcoat rôle) Mead now shows us that he can play comedy too. Incidentally, we also get the chance to hear him sing, albeit not much, as there is an ensemble chorus as the end of the show.
Gary Wilmot’s Septimus Podgers was a very working-class, down to earth palmist, slick in both his movements and dialogue. Louisa Clein was (as it said in the programme) ‘pretty as a picture’ as Sybil, Arthur’s fiancée.
In cloak and wide-brimmed hat, Derren Nesbitt burst onto the stage full of Teutonic bombast as the eccentric ‘bomb expert’ Herr Wincklekopf. As for David Ross’s Dean of Chichester (one of the unfortunates on Arthur’s hit list) he was excellent: bluff, outspoken and, sometimes, just plain rude.
And Kate O’Mara (looking every bit as foxy as she appeared way back in Dynasty) was superb as Lady Windermere. Her asides and acerbic homilies on marriage, men and the state of the nation were delivered with aplomb, often accentuated by haughty flourishes and a swish of her skirt.
Other versions of this play are longer, have more characters and even more murder attempts. But here we have a drama with sparkling dialogue that just fizzes along; it is fast-paced and polished, with an excellent cast who have a great sense of timing and work together well. They know just how far to take the tongue-in-cheek humour and the result is an evening of sheer escapism for us all.