Reviewed by James Karas
The Stratford Festival delivers a largely successful production of Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband deftly directed Lezlie Wade with sets by Douglas Paraschuk and costumes by Patrick Clark.
An Ideal Husband is a Victorian melodrama that is raised above the genre by Wilde’s wit, aphorisms and inverted phrases. The plot creaks on occasion and the wit dries up now and then (unlike, say, in The Importance of Being Earnest) but it can be made to work.
The melodrama? Our ideal husband, Sir Robert Chiltern (Tim Campbell) is rich (Paraschuk’s set of the front hall and the parlour of his house in Grosvenor Square proves it) and very successful. He is Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs. He has a beautiful and devoted wife, Lady Gertrude Chiltern (Sophia Walker), a pretty sister, Miss Mabel (Zara Jestadt), and life is good.
But there is a skeleton in Sir Robert’s closet. He achieved his wealth and position by selling a cabinet secret!
Enter the beautiful, unscrupulous, greedy and ambitious Mrs. Laura Cheveley (Behareh Yaraghi). She wants Sir Robert to lie to the House of Commons about the Argentina canal project and present it as a good investment when in fact it is a fraudulent scheme. Mrs. Cheveley will make a pile of money of course. If Sir Robert does not stoop to the blackmail he will be ruined and disgraced because she has the evidence of the treachery on which his wealth and position are built. Full marks to Yaraghi for a fine-honed performance.
An Ideal Husband is set in London’s high society in 1895. Only the servants don’t have titles, otherwise the stage is strewn with aristocrats, ladies and gentlemen. The representation of that society on the stage, in their opulent setting, with their impeccable tuxes and suits for the gentlemen and gorgeous gowns for the ladies, requires a certain stylized acting and the perfect upper crust, chiseled English accents. They are not easy to achieve and the success of the cast of An Ideal Husband ranges from the passable to the well done.
The success with accent is not necessarily the ultimate mark of success. The talented Joseph Ziegler, for example, who is not particularly adept at accents, does a superb job in the secondary role of Lord Caversham. He gives a fine portrayal of the upstanding peer who has a wastrel of a son. Ziegler gives an excellent portrayal and gets all the laughs.
The show is stolen by Brad Hodder as Lord Goring, Lord Caversham’s son. He is cynical, lazy and basically does nothing except live for pleasure. His problem is his father who wants him to get married and make something of himself. Hodder plays well with the clever Miss Mabel who outsmarts him into proposing to her.
I had difficulty taking Tim Campbell as Sir Robert. He is a big man and I see him as a grandee in a Western rather than as a British gentleman. His pairing with Sophia Walker as Lady Gertrude did not seem to work very well and their deep love for each other as the perfect couple was less than convincing.
There are a large number of ladies and gentlemen, footmen and servants in the cast who were nicely dressed with uneven performances and accents.
Lezlie Wade directing gets most of the laughs and despite the unevenness of the play and the relatively minor issues with the cast, we get an enjoyable evening at the theatre. ______________
An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde opened on May 31 and will run until October 28, 2018 at the Avon Theatre, 99 Downie St, Stratford, ON N5A 1X2. www.stratfordfestival.ca