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Arts & Culture Reviews

Review: An Ideal Husband

Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, which opened this past Wednesday, was by far the most creative play this season. While it took the actors a while to get into the swing of things, the show was funny, innovative and an all round good watch.

Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, which opened this past Wednesday, was by far the most creative play this season. While it took the actors a while to get into the swing of things, the show was funny, innovative and an all round good watch.
Director Laura Vingoe-Cram and cast got their hands dirty with costume and props made with garbage bags, purple duct tape and cardboard. The costumes were elegant and simple, and yet they were made out of plastic. The hats and cardboard props were beautiful and believable– a perfect metaphore for a play that is all about appearances, or rather, keeping them up. An attempt to dress up Wilde’s play in plastic and cardboard could easily have crashed and burned. But as Vingoe-Cram says in her note, I trust that Wilde would have found it intriguing. This is no small feat—kudos to Emlyn Murray and Kat Shubaly for the costumes and props, and of course to the director and cast for pulling it off.
But some initiatives were not as successful. The gender switch, while certainly a thematically intriguing idea, did not quite translate to the stage. Both Eric Cunningham (Mrs. Cheveley) and Annie Flaherty (Sir Robert Chiltern) are clearly talented actors. They played the opposite gender with a sincerity that is hard to come by. It was easy for the audience to forget that it was in fact a woman playing a man (or vice versa). Both nailed the gait and detailed gestures of the opposite sex. However, both struggled with their voice. Cunningham was hard to understand and did not enunciate. Flaherty’s voice was cartoony and bordered on annoying. Most of all, they both seemed so preoccupied with playing the sex, that they forgot about the character. I never really got a sense of who Sir Robert or Mrs. Cheveley really were.
The other actors seemed low energy at the beginning of the play, but soon caught their stride. Good thing too—the play ran a little under three hours. While no scenes dragged, the pace, the lines and the cues could have been all picked up quite a lot. That said, all the actors had wonderful comedic timing. The only criticism on this would be the first scene: there’s no need to hit us over the need with the sexual innuendos. The humour in this scene would have blossomed if they had played it down.
There entire cast were committed to their roles. Lucy Campbell (Lady Chiltern) was a joy to watch. She held herself well, spoke clearly and completely embodied the wonderful paradox that is Lady Chiltern. Harry Sawchuk (Lord Goring) was also extremely good. His impervious smiles and elegant delivery made him the ideal dandy. However, he had a habit of over doing an expression in a way that was all too clown-ish. This unfortunately made his portrayal stagey at times; but it was an acceptable wrinkle in what was otherwise an enjoyable performance.
While our main couples rose to the challenge, it was the secondary characters who stole the show. Marina Gwynne (Mable Chiltern), John Last (Earl of Caversham) and Alexandra Eaton (Lady Markby) never missed a beat. Gwynne owned that character—her delivery was flawless, and she danced through her scenes, both vocally and physically with such precision and energy that I was sad to see her go. Alexandra Eaton spoke the lines with a perfect understanding. She aced the subtext in her scenes, and mastered the comedy through her delivery and prescence. And finally, I don’t think that Last spoke one line without someone laughing. He was quite simply hilarious. All three made those characters their own.
Overall I think the show achieved what any self respecting Wilde show should: it made us laugh at the truth. While some ideas weren’t quite up to snuff, others were a hole in one. Had they found the balance between challenging themselves and keeping up the basics of pacing, energy and delivery, it would have taken our breath away. That said, this is one of the more innovative plays I’ve seen in a long time. It’s funny, visually striking, and well acted. An Ideal Husband is one of its kind– definitely not one to miss.

By David J. Shuman

David is a second-year journalism student at King's, is engagement/news editor of The Watch, and a copy editor of The Pigeon. He writes on student politics, campus happenings, and school news. 

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