If there is one thing to be learned from Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband it’s that things rarely change.
Sweep away the period costume and you’ll find that political corruption and the shenanigans surrounding it are as relevant now as they were 120 years ago; only the names and faces change.
With this in mind director David Phipps-Davis presents a very modern story of bribery and betrayal to audiences at the Tabard Theatre, Chiswick.
Politician Robert Chiltern is no more “An Ideal Husband” than hedonist, dilettante and dandy Arthur Goring has any hope of becoming.
Back in Chiltern’s past he succumbed to temptation and sold state secrets to finance his lifestyle.
At a drinks party thrown by his wife the past comes back to haunt him when he is confronted by a very attractive blackmailer in the shape of much divorced socialite Laura Cheveley.
Wilde didn’t need to look far for inspiration considering the furore surrounding his life at the time of the play’s production.
The only surprise is that the indiscretions at the heart of An Ideal Husband are political rather than sexual (in fact, it’s odd that Wilde didn’t suggest Chiltern had been naughty with his private secretary).
The parallel story running through the play is that of Chiltern’s family friend and confidente, Arthur Goring, being pressurised by his father into making a suitable marriage – echoing the Marquess of Queensberry’s determination to wrestle his son away from the playwright and force him into marriage.
Smart Productions’ An Ideal Husband is full of Wilde’s usual wit and quotable wisdom and stems from the author’s own desire for his scandalous past to be forgiven.
“Sooner or later we shall all have to pay for what we do. No-one should entirely be judged by their past.”
Jill Rutland makes blackmail seem almost socially acceptable as Cheveley and nicely underplays the woman’s scandalous character.
Meanwhile Doug Cooper presents a very personable and convincing right honourable gentleman caught out by one dishonourable moment of temptation.
Jamie Thompson, as Goring, is perhaps not as flamboyant as his rather racy buttonholes suggest. Is he a-man-about-town or “confirmed bachelor”? The jury is still out.
Some of the more overtly comic roles – Michael Kenneth-Stewart as Goring’s father, the Earl of Caversham, and Scott Westwood’s dual roles of Phipps the butler and the effete Vicomte de Nanjac – don’t translate well into a modern production but on the whole the update is effective and entirely relevant.
An Ideal Husband runs until July 19.
*On a personal note it’s about time The Tabard bites the bullet and spends a bit of cash updating its auditorium which is, without air-con, unbearably hot and unbelievably cramped with leg-room between rows designed for no-one larger than a toddler.