Theatre Review: Ideal Husband

Posted on: 30 November 2010 by Rhian Mainwaring

A rising politician is faced with the prospect of ruin in Oscar Wilde's 100 year old comedy An Ideal Husband which now seems as fresh and relevant as when it was first written in Lindsay Posner's excellent new production at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Ideal HusbandSir Robert Chiltern, a highly successful government minister, finds his reputation career and marriage to the loving but idealistic Lady Chiltern threatened by the arrival of the mysterious Mrs Cheveley. Confronted with damning evidence of a past misdeed that he rashly solds cabinet secrets to a shock exchange speculator Sir Robert turns for help to his friend Lord Goring, an apparently idle philanderer but someone who can dispense sensible advice at the drop of a hat, who himself has a history with Mrs Cheveley and is the despair of his family. Can Goring save his friend from ruin? And will Lady Chiltern be able to reconcile the man she loves with her expectations of an ideal husband? One thing is certain for the next 48 hours all their lives will be turned upside down.

Wilde's story of morality, blackmail and political corruption is characterised by his biting wit and sparkling humour, exemplified by Mrs Cheveley's remark that in the season people are either hunting for husbands or hiding from them! and also manages to be a tender hearted portrait  of a marriage. Posner negotiates the shifts between frivolity and dramatic tension with great skill and reaches down to the emotional core of the work, showing that what matters in life is love and forgiveness.

Stephen Brimson Lewis stylish set of Robert Chiltern's grand house in Grosvenor Square with its gold coloured Rococo grandeur and elegant chandelier and the spacious library of Lord Goring's house in Curson Street lends the play a strong sense of conviction.

Furthermore Posner extracts splendid perofrmances from Alexander Hanson as the proud, self-important Sir Robert Chiltern, a man whose twin gods have been wealth and power and whose past mistake comes back to haunt him, Rachel Stirling as his loving wife, Elliot Cowan as his trusted longtime friend on whom he can rely, Lord Goring, and , best of all, Samantha Bond as the blackmailing femme fatale Mrs Cheveley, a woman prepared to destroy lives and marriages - to further her own ends.

This indeed is a play of wit and wisdom that does not for a minute seem preachy or heavy-handed but in fact provides an uplifting, wholly satisfying evening in the theatre.

Plays until the 29th February

Box office: 0844 412 4663

Review by Laurence Green, photography Nobby Clark

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