Tag Archives: Oscar Wilde

Theatre Review:A Woman of No Importance…Or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow (Hen & Chickens, London)

Katherine Rodden as Lauren, with a glass of Sainsbury's Finest Merlot. Don't know it until you've down it.

Katherine Rodden as Lauren, with a glass of Sainsbury’s Finest Merlot. Don’t know it until you’ve downed it.

Rating: ***

Lauren (Katherine Rodden) is not so much having a bad day but a bad month. Out of work and lost somewhere in a sea of Bond Street shopping and empty bottles of Sainsbury’s Finest Merlot, she passes the time drunk and rehearsing monologues by Oscar Wilde. But just as she feels she about to have an epiphany her mother (Rachel Dobell) rudely barges in with some shocking news – she’s divorcing. Soon what follows is a farce of family dysfunctions, divorce lawyers-cum-marriage counsellors, feisty suitors, and some other guy whose name eludes me.

In her programme notes playwright and resident company member Rodden mentions that her goal here is to create a modern farce in the style of Wilde or Noel Coward – updating class-based comedy for a modern age. But you needn’t read the programme notes to have sussed that out. Sarah Pitard’s stage is a handsome collection of 1940s Chinoiserie furniture complete with an elegant painting of the period, even if it is cluttered with the debris from Lauren’s despair. There’s even Coward playing over the theatre’s sound system between scenes. Yet despite Rodden and the indomitable Paradigm Theatre Company’s efforts, A Woman of No Importance… is an example of just how difficult it is to perfect farce, even when it’s something so well meaning and modern as this.

There is very little wrong with the writing. In fact Rodden’s text delivers a bevy of sharp and sassy one-liners that will keep you chuckling or, in some cases, laughing out loud throughout. The only criticism is that towards the end it succumbs to what is so easily done with farce – it all gets a bit too over the top that it looses the charm it held the audience with for the first four fifths of the play with. But more so it’s the execution that lets it fall short of what its trying to be.

There are moments when the cast’s comic-timing is a little off. Snappy little lines are sometimes not delivered as quicksilver as the script begs for causing some of the gags to arrive a little stilted. Also, the cast often don’t react too well to the audience, so when there are big laughs you all too quickly miss the next line because there isn’t a pause enough it above the patrons’ bellows. And when it comes to the physical comedy element it feels far too rehearsed and laboured. Slapstick begs a spontaneous and unsuspecting energy to it and Paradigm’s crew lacks just that. Knowing where the kicks are going to come from next spoils the punch-line, and this stops what should have been a riotous climax from being so.

But there are many saving graces to the show that makes Paradigm’s effort very worthy and still manages to result in an enjoyable evening. Cat Robey’s direction, although admitting it’s her first time doing farce, manages to pick out smaller details which augment Rodden’s witty text – everything from lawyer Geoffrey’s errant tongue, played wonderfully weaselly by Matt Houlihan, to some well placed interactions with some well placed props. Robey has always been a director who knows that God is in the detail and despite venturing into new territory A Woman of No Importance… is no exception.

The cast also hold themselves generally very well. Rodden’s Lauren is sufficiently whiney, self-absorbed, but charming enough for us to sympathise with her plight but willing indulge in a schadenfreude that makes her mishaps comically worthwhile. But it’s Alan Booty, playing Lauren’s father, that really steals the show. He has a monolithic presence on such a small stage whose persona as the oversexed toff dad is as boisterous as the laughs he brings about. His deliveries are always light, playful, and more often than not spot on making him a real delight to have on stage.

A Woman of No Importance… is a production on not quite perfection. It’s such a shame because it really tries to be, and with tighter execution it really could have been the formidable modern farce it wants to be. But none the less it’s still a sterling effort that, despite its faults, will push away the February gloom with charm and gusto.

A Woman on No Importance…or Somewhat Importance Anyhow plays at the Hen and Chickens, London, N1 2NA, until 23 February 2013. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). To book visit www.unrestrictedview.co.uk.

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Stage Review: Books, Freedom, Flowers, and the Moon (Waterloo East Theatre, London)

Rating: ****

So, this is a little later up than planned due to being quite debilitatingly ill recently, and such a shame that I never got this out before the run was over! My sincerest apologies to Waterloo Theatre East and Paradigm Theatre Company. But hopefully, my views will still prove useful and insightful (that’s the plan at any rate). It’s certainly a production that is worthy of being written about.

Sarah Pitard adapts two of Oscar Wilde’s short stories for the stage, The Nightingale and the Rose, and The Happy Prince. Wilde’s fairy tales, often seen as subtle insights into his sexuality and creatively deep responses to injustice and hypocrisies, are here reset and reimagined in and among a gypsy community in 1930s Germany starting to suffer the wrath of the Nazi social eugenics.

Remodelling these beloved stories from being about bombastic birds, forlorn statues, and chatting fauna to a darker setting might seem like a difficult task to pull off. However Pitard’s approach is mindful and heartfelt keeping the essence of Wilde’s delicate narratives and conveying them in a way that enables her audience to connect with whilst avoiding silly and distracting inconveniences such as, ‘having any actors wearing pigeon costumes!’ Pitard’s Third Reich scenario surprisingly feels so natural and un-forced that you can believe Wilde came up with the plot device himself. When teamed with the fresh and enthusiastic Paradigm Theatre Company under the inspired direction of Cat Robey, the result an evening of earnest and moving theatre.

The evening is very much split into two very distinct parts. The first act being the retelling of The Nightingale and the Rose, and the second The Happy Prince. Whilst the setting links the two they are still very separate plays with very separate characters and stories, and their own strengths and weaknesses.

In the first act we get a combination of Robey at her best, but Pitard’s not as polished as could be. Out of the two, this act definitely feels more like a fairy tale than the other. The characters, like in children’s stories, don’t have enough believable depth beyond their predispositions. The text is often a little forced, especially as a lot of it is taken directly from Wilde’s flowery prose itself which is delivered a little awkwardly by the cast at times. But that’s not to make it sound worse than it was. There was still intelligence and emotion behind it, especially Tamar Karabetyan’s who managed to play Florica, the nightingale’s, role of desperation and self-sacrifice with wonderful grace.

It’s Robey’s direction that astounds. Her talent for inserting ingenious nuance into such limited space and resources is unparalleled here. The delicate white flowers dotted around the stage that so easily get trampled by a marauding and ignorant cast is a powerful and heart-breaking little flourish to the narrative. Not to mention that she generally has great command over the use of such a small space, creating tension, movement, and volume out of nothing and in defiance of any limitations. Nothing about the it is ever flat or dull.

But overall the first half just lacks that small slice of charm to propel it into something as captivating as the original fairy tale itself.

Then in Act II the tables are turned. Pitard really comes into her own with her adaptation, but we see a little less flair from Robey. Pitard adds more depth and nuance to the characters actually creating additional complexity to Wilde’s; the swallow a dying gypsy girl, and the prince a rich businessman struck with sudden philanthropy as the Nazis grow crueler. Pitard’s writing is sharp, fluid, but above all devastating, really pulling the audience right into the sheer sorrow of Wilde’s tale. Coupled with fantastic performances it doesn’t take much to be captivated here. Bethan Hanks as Isabella is brilliant, managing to convey an emotionally shattering combination of beguiling and energetic confidence in the acceptance of her fate, and compassion for Mr Prin. She works marvelously alongside Jeremy Gagan as the frail and fretful guardian, and the pair’s performance is enthralling.

However, it’s a shame to see there being little room for the ornamentation that Robey besotted us with previously. It’s still incredibly competent, the creation of a troubling merry-go-round revolving around Mr Prin’s lavish safe-haven being a strong choice, but there’s nothing as stand out as in the first act. Ultimately though, the second act is definitely the stronger of the two, and is the better choice to finish the evening.

All in all this was a production with nothing to declare but a touching and a charming execution of a brave concept.