Dominic Dromgoole’s first season at Vaudeville Theatre is devoted entirely to the plays of Oscar Wilde and opens with A Woman of No Importance, a satire on Victorian society and its lax morality, its hypocrisy and its double standards of one law for men and another for women. The play has always had a bad press ever since its premiere in 1893 but the theatregoing public has always enjoyed the mixture of melodrama and witty epigrams.
In a pitched battle between puritans and profligates you might expect Wilde to be on the side of the sinner – but here the puritans rout the profligates comprehensively. Eve Best as Mrs Arbuthnot, the woman of no importance, is completely unfazed by the melodrama and copes admirably with it.
David Eldridge’s Beginning at National Theatre is a neat and intimate two-hander about acute loneliness and the difficulty of finding a partner late in life. A hundred minutes long and acted straight through without interval, it’s tender and heartfelt, funny and not funny. Two strangers fancy each other. She is 38 and single; he is 42 and divorced. Desperate for love, marriage and children, she makes all the advances.
The acting is subtle; there are no histrionics and the actors get it absolutely right. Justine Mitchell and Sam Troughton are especially good with the excruciating embarrassment, awkwardness, long silences, clumsiness and uncertainty. The director is Polly Findlay.
There is much to enjoy in Mike Bartlett’s Albion, a complex and emotional play directed by Rupert Gould at Almeida Theatre. Albion is a garden created in 1923 as a memorial to the men who died in the First World War. It has been left in wrack and ruin. Its new owner has a mission to restore it to its former glory and for it to be a memorial to her son who died in Iraq. Grief-stricken and grossly insensitive, she manages to antagonise everybody. It’s a wonderful role for Victoria Hamilton and brilliantly taken.
At the National Theatre Rory Mullarkey’s Saint George and the Dragon, a rambling and disappointing epic about England in three different eras, is described as “a folk tale for an uneasy nation”. John Heffernan’s George is not the knight in shining armour that Dürer, Raphael, Tintoretto and Uccello painted. He’s a naïve and silly Monty Python-style ass, with golden flowing locks. Centuries later he ends up looking like a football hooligan complete with St George’s white and red cross flag.
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