Tag Archives: Emma Fielding

“A Woman of No Importance” at the Vaudeville Theatre

Dominic Dromgoole’s latest project, with his new company, Classic Spring, is a year of Oscar Wilde plays. It’s off to a fantastic start with this story of adultery and sexual inequality. Wilde, the Victorian radical, has a sharp eye on masculine privilege that feels depressingly topical.

Providing effective pathos is Eve Best as the wronged woman, Mrs Arbuthnot. It’s hard for modern ears to hear her self-excoriation. But Best sets up an underlying anger towards her reencountered seducer (impressively performed by Dominic Rowan) that thrills. Best and the whole company’s handling of the play’s plentiful melodrama is masterful – a few well-placed laughs help us over some crippling sincerity.

This play is serious. But this is Wilde, so the comedy is as good as any you could find – in his day or now. Leading the epigrams alongside Rowan is Emma Fielding as the archly aesthetic Mrs Allonby. And there’s a great little performance from Phoebe Fildes as a sophisticate in training. Leading the way are Eleanor Bron and Anne Reid as two aristocratic dowagers giving top-class performances. It takes a lot not to be controlled by Wilde’s comedy; both make the lines natural, while Reid’s suggestion of a little too much digestif in the third act is a cheeky move that gets a laugh with every line.

So far, this is strong actors making the most of a genius. More than enough reason to see the show. But Dromgoole has a programme of ideas driving his production that elevates this to one of the finest of revivals.

First is the idea of exploring the proscenium theatre that Wilde’s plays were written for and that the Vaudeville is such a gorgeous example of. Let’s celebrate this wonderful format. It leads to fantastic sets and costumes from Jonathan Fensom and sensitive lighting from Ben Ormerod. Scene changes include some songs and period numbers arranged by Jason Carr – now that’s entertainment. After years at Shakespeare’s Globe, Dromgoole is an expert at the potential of a period.

Dromgoole also knows how to make sure a play doesn’t get stuck in the past. In a revelatory move, he’s utilised a study of the play’s previous drafts. The assumption that Wilde would have been bolder had the theatre of his day allowed it is a point for discussion. But it’s a fun debate, and all-too- suitable for a figure whose legacy has been so often used (and abused). You have to know the text well to work out what’s gone on, and plenty of lines still feel old-fashioned, but the idea is brave and effective. Classic Spring has a winning formula set up for an exciting year. Get booking.

Until 30 December 2017

www.nimaxtheatres.com

Photo by Marc Brenner

 

 

“Rapture, Blister, Burn” at Hampstead Theatre

Exciting American talent comes to the Hampstead Theatre with Gina Gionfriddo’s play Rapture, Blister, Burn, a clever take on the state of feminism that’s filled with insight and fun.

It’s based around middle-aged, successful “sexy scholar” Catherine, a demanding role for the spirited Emilia Fox, who returns to her home town to look after her mother. Catherine reconnects with old friends from Grad School, Gwen and Don, who married and settled down when she left town, and their narrow academic social world serves well to raise bigger questions. Adding Catherine’s mother (Polly Adam) and a young student, Avery, provides plenty of satisfying intergenerational content.

To be sure, it’s all highly contrived. Gionfriddo is unabashed by this. Catherine teaches a class to just Avery and Gwen, which becomes more like a confessional. As lectures about feminism go, I can’t imagine them getting much sprightlier, with plenty of humour provided by the arrogance of youth, the dissatisfaction of middle age and excellent one-liners. Emma Fielding handles the role of Gwen well, but Shannon Tarbet as Avery has the funnier lines.

Gionfriddo’s frequent collaborator Peter Dubois directs, and picks up the pace in the second half for the better. The characters don’t always convince, although Don, the flawed male of the piece (performed with style by Adam James), is carefully drawn and perhaps the most thought provoking.

It’s predictable that Catherine starts an affair, but this is the point at which Gionfriddo really gets to work. The twists and turns of a marital breakdown, observed again by both the elderly and the young, is dealt with bluntly and irreverently. The sense of humour is wicked and overpowers much studied thinking, but this stylish piece is sure to provoke debate.

Until 22 February 2014

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Written 23 January 2014 for The London Magazine