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Review - An Ideal Husband: intrigue, blackmail and political corruption

By Pauline Smith

An Ideal Husband

By Oscar Wilde

Directed by Matthew Hobbs

The Ron Hurley Theatre

Cnr Tallowwood Street and Griffith Place

Clearview Urban Village

Off Clearview Terrace, Seven Hills

Season: Until March 21. Duration: approx three hours including interval. Bookings: or call 07 3395 5168

It was an interesting start to the season for Villanova Players with An Ideal Husband, which was originally staged in 1895. It involves intrigue, blackmail, political corruption and honour. Not unlike the world of today, but set in Victorian England where values were set in concrete and hypocrisy ran rife.

The play was well acted by the ensemble, with one liner jabs at life in general, husbands, and the Victorian era, which provided comedic relief to a very wordy two act play (originally written as a four act), making this a lengthy play by today’s standards.

An Ideal Husband explores what it takes to be a ‘proper’ member of society and what women, supposedly, look for when choosing the perfect partner. Mrs Marchmont (Linda Stevenson) and The Countess of Basildon (Alison Clark) are the first to appear at the political party being staged at Sir Chiltern’s house. These two were a riot; with their base critique of everything and everybody, in particular their husbands who were notably absent. They were however the height of the hypocrisy as they said one thing to each other, such as decrying men for not looking after them and taking them into supper, and then when one does come forward to escort them, they tell him they don’t eat supper.

The play revolves around six main characters. Sir Robert Chiltern (Troy Bullock), his wife, Lady Gertrude Chiltern (Nathalie Cattaneo), Miss Mabel Chiltern, Sir Robert’s sister (Lillian Dowdell), Mrs Laura Cheveley (Olivia Pinwill), and Lord Arthur Goring (Oscar Kennedy Smith).

Sir Robert is a respected government official and loving husband, who becomes the subject of blackmail by Mrs Cheveley, whose former mentor and lover became rich by seducing the young Sir Robert into revealing a government secret.

Mrs Cheveley now has the evidence of that former sin and uses it to force Sir Robert to change his mind about denouncing a scam in Argentina in which she has invested heavily. Lord Goring, is a dandified bachelor in his mid-30s, who enjoys the London party scene with no hint of wanting to settle down, but is also a good friend to Sir Robert.

I really liked the chemistry between Bullock and Smith as Sir Robert and Lord Goring. They really played well off of each other. Smith was excellent as Lord Goring, seemingly not serious about life, who could be easily dismissed as frivolous, meanwhile taking everything in that is going on around him.

Pinwill, as Laura Chevely, was the most dislikeable villain. An overly opinionated woman, loud, gregarious, holding a very high opinion of herself, was immediately disliked by every woman and some men in the room (both on stage and in the audience). Pinwill did exceptionally well to pull off this character.

Lady Markby (Elizabeth Morris) was a hoot with her one liners. She unwittingly brings Chevely to the Chiltern’s house as her ‘plus one’, in lieu of her husband. Mabel Chiltern is that breath of fresh air in a stifled Victorian England landscape – she behaves as she is expected to, however, is trying to push the envelope when it comes to love and who she thinks would make an ideal husband for herself. She, of course, gets him in the end, but on her terms.

The stage was adeptly set for a formal lounge in a grand Victorian home. It gets a quick makeover at the start of Act 2, to become Lord Goring’s residence. Costuming was appropriate; however I did think Lady Markby’s ‘party dress’ was not as stylish as the one she wore through the rest of the play. Her wig was also notably awful, but this may have been part of the character.

While there was one noticeable fluff up when Lord Goring dropped a prop, he quickly recovered with an ad lib line and kept in character. I think the cast did really well with this play given its length and verbosity. While An Ideal Husband may stand the test of time in its themes, it might benefit from a Reader’s Digest version or perhaps splitting the play into three acts to make it more digestible from an audience point of view.

While I do prefer Wilde’s previous play (The Importance of Being Earnest), this one is certainly entertaining in its own right.