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A Woman of No Importance

Review - A Woman of No Importance, starring Eve Best, at the Vaudeville Theatre

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

No, A Woman of No Importance isn't a stage biography of Theresa May. Rather, it is Oscar Wilde's 1893 play that inaugurates a new, year-long season dedicated to his work that will be followed by productions of Lady Windermere's Fan, The Importance of Being Earnest and An Ideal Husband.

It is the latest bold initiative of former Globe artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, who has established a new commercial and classical theatre company called Classic Spring. As with the Globe, the idea is to perform the plays in the environment they were originally written for: in a programme introduction, Dromgoole says the company is "here to celebrate the ground-breaking work of proscenium playwrights in the architecture they wrote for." He goes on, "Just as the Globe offers a cascade of insights into Shakespeare's work, so there is a dynamic and revealing relationship between these plays and the velvety darkness, the enclosed acoustic and the picture framing of the proscenium arch. These theatres release the energy of these plays; these plays makes sense of these theatres."

So the theatrical clock is being deliberately turned back a bit; and in an age when theatre makers are always striving for innovation and the new, there's something radical in the notion of returning to an earlier era so deliberately and defiantly. As Dromgoole also explains, the first three of the plays in his season have each only been performed once in London in the last twenty years.

Not since the 1980s heyday of producer Duncan C Weldon, who used to run the Theatre Royal Haymarket like a classical revival house of star-led productions, has there been anything comparable.

All of which is by way of delaying saying that as much as I applaud the idea and even the handsome execution here, there's also something a bit laboured, dull and old-fashioned about this play, too, that makes watching it quite hard going, despite contemporary parallels that had me constantly thinking of Harvey Weinstein.

It portrays a sexually voracious powerful man Lord Illingworth, who twenty years earlier disgraced a woman by leaving her pregnant but refusing to marry her and is now continuing his campaign as another young woman attracts his attention. As the social class comedy gives way to a keener portrayal of women at the mercy of men but seeking their independence from them, there drama finally ignites, especially as played by the absolutely riveting Eve Best and Dominic Rowan as the former lovers now negotiating a new understanding based around the now adult son they had.

But too much of the earlier part of the play is a ping-pong of bon-mots and aphorisms, however pointedly they are delivered by a cast that also includes such stellar veterans as Anne Reid and Eleanor Bron.  (Some of the lines are distinctly familiar: "All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy", "No man does. That is his," was recycled into The Importance of Being Earnest premiered two years later).

It's a brave venture to bring this play back to the West End; I only hope there are enough people curious to see it at prices that run up to £75 each to make it viable.

A Woman of No Importance is at the Vaudeville Theatre until 30th December. 

A Woman of No Importance Tickets are available now. 

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