Such was the allure of the cast of Oscar Wilde‘s An Ideal Husband that the Whingers went to the trouble of trailing all the way out to the Richmond Theatre (Zone 4, since you ask) to see Sir Peter Hall‘s production.
It took Phil back to his days when he’d make a weekly visit to the Theatre Royal Brighton to see whatever stars were gracing its stage that particular week. Ah yes, the stars he saw then….
[Note from Andrew: Dear reader: with your best interests at heart I have here expunged eight paragraphs of Phil’s reminiscences]
Yes, this cast would have done Brighton proud: Kate O’Mara (Triangle), Michael Praed (Dynasty) Carol Royle (Life Without George), Robert Duncan (Drop The Dead Donkey), Tony Britton (Robin’s Nest) and their raison d’être en banlieue Fenella Fielding (Carry On Screaming).
As the Whingers took their seats they were had plenty of time to admire Frank Matcham‘s beautiful auditorium* while the elders of Richmond inched their way to their seats. It was heartening to see so many elderly people packed together for warmth and the Richmond Theatre had thoughtfully put on the central heating so it was nice and toasty.
Phil was inspired by the inscription above the auditorium: “To wake the soul by tender strokes of art” (Alexander Pope, prologue to Cato apparently) but doubted if Andrew even possessed a soul, much less one that could be awakened. Was Matcham laying down a challenge? If so, the central heating was certainly conspiring against Matcham’s lofty ambition. On the other hand even Andrew would struggle to nod off in the midst of the insistent coughing from Richmond’s senior citizens.
Various versions of Peter Hall’s “highly-acclaimed West End and Broadway production” have been knocking around for years (since 1992 to be precise), and it shows: this tour has been “recreated” by Mark Piper, but recreated is a rather ambiguous term. Andrew’s recreation of Amy Winehouse in vegetable matter probably bore closer resemblance to its original source than this production.
The dresses were under-dressed, the suits ill-fitting and it all came across as a bit am-dram. Whose dressing up box had they been rummaging in? Not Phil’s, that’s for sure. And the sets looked like they had been knocking around (and getting knocked about) since 1992.
The acting was variable – not just in quality, but in style: some of it seemed to have been crafted to reach the back of the O2 Arena; at other times the Whingers were holding their breath to see if some very senior actors managed to make it across the stage or deliver the sparkling Wildean epigrams in a form that would elicit more than a polite titter from the audience. During the third act Miss O’Mara delivered her internal monologue direct to the audience in almost pantomimic style.
If the Whingers had been quite struck by the average age of the audience this turned out to be nothing compared with that of the people on the stage.
Praed is a well-preserved 48, Carol Royle 54, Robert Duncan is 56 (but playing 34), Britton is 84 and Fielding, well that’s anyones guess (the internet says born circa 1930). But the largest laugh of the night was greeted by the 69 year old Miss O’Mara’s remark about passing for under 40.
Now lest you think the Whingers are being ageist, let us set the record straight. Phil in particular always enjoys being surrounded by older people (for novelty value) and, when it comes to the theatre the more senior the actor the more things they have been in and the more actory they tend to be which suits the Whingers just fine. But somehow the net effect of all this seniority was to, well, challenge the limits of even the Whingers’ abilities to suspend their disbelief. Let’s just leave it there.
An Ideal Husband survives, but only just, mainly because the plot – which concerns the devious Mrs Cheveley (O’Mara) attempting to blackmail British Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Sir Robert Chiltern (Praed), for building a career and personal fortune by selling a cabinet secret – is fairly compelling, but the lines (which should presumably sprarkle) fell flat on their faces. If only someone had got out the Goddards and polished the cast’s delivery up a bit.
There are plenty of epigrams which could be savoured in a different production and the Whingers found particular disquietude in the line “bachelors are not fashionable anymore”.
But it didn’t seem to matter to the audience at Richmond, National Institution Fenella Fielding got a round of applause after her big second act scene, despite killing most of the comedy in her lines stone dead; possibly the applause was just for remembering some of them. Phil was reminded of Mae West in Sextette, not that that’s a bad thing.
The Whingers entertained themselves by wondering what Michael Billington would make of it. Certainly it has resonances for our time: a scandal which could end the political career of someone with a great prospects, people trying to protect their investments in maritime projects, the titled trying to protect their names, the super rich entertaining guests guests who can’t be trusted. As The Earl of Caversham (Britton) says “Suppose I go to the newspaper with the story?”. Phil couldn’t help thinking of Nat Rothschild.
At the end of the show Mr Praed came forward to invite the audience to put £2 each into a bucket to support actors and technicians who have fallen on hard times or are otherwise distressed. Frankly the Whingers felt much of the £27 they had stumped up for their tickets had largely gone in that direction anyway.
According to Wikipedia Fenella Fielding made an album of cover songs including Robbie Williams‘ Angels, Kylie Minogue‘s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, New Order‘s Blue Monday and the White Stripes‘ Passive Manipulation. The Whingers had their doubts and believed Fenella to have been a victim of a Vernon Kaye “is dead” wind up. However, truth proves yet again to be stranger than fiction.
* Based on his decision to situate the bar in a corridor we must conclude that Matcham is actually somewhat over-rated.