A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE was filmed live at the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End especially for the cinema screen. With this revival of A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE Dominic Dromgoole launches two exciting projects in London– his new company Clear Spring and a year long season of Oscar Wilde plays.
The first third of the play is perhaps superficial and stilted with Society leaders spouting Wildean aphorisms (beautifully enunciated) , criticising its double standard and examining the position of women in society at that time . It takes a bit of time to warm up - then toward the last third of the first half there is a sudden gripping unexpected twist and change with revelations of secrets kept for over twenty years. You can catch the similarities to for instance , Lady Windermere's Fan, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest. "The world is made for men, not for women”. We see this illustrated via the heady social success of the sceptical Lord Illingworth, who trades on his reputation for elegantly phrased seductive immorality Two decades earlier, he had a son, Gerald, born out of wedlock to a woman who now calls herself Mrs Arbuthnot. Whereas she has suffered greatly, Lord Illingworth has not faced the consequences earlier and it is only when he proposes to take the boy on as his private secretary that she asserts her claims as a wronged woman and loving mother.
First performed in 1893 Wilde’s play requires a large cast of sixteen and Dromgoole has a splendid ensemble as led by Eve Best as Mrs Arbuthnot.
Best , stunning in a Beardsley like gown of black velvet , is superbly moving as Mrs Arbuthnot, the “Woman” of the title who attempts to prevent her beloved son Gerald taking up a diplomatic career with Lord Illingworth who, 20 years back, fathered and abandoned him. She is cruelly trapped. Should she reveal to Gerald the truth and risk being judged? Or should she stay silent?
She can either let Gerald depart , in all innocence, with Lord Illingworth and hopefully have a fabulous career, or she can destroy his prospects by revealing their hidden secret . Best is compelling and gives a magnificent, heartfelt performance, finely nuanced and revealing Mrs Arbuthnot’s continued brave resolution and integrity.
Dominic Rowan as Lord Illingworth is charismatic, suave and debonair – at least on the surface – but over the course of the play we see how he is really a complete cad and rotter. Harry Lister Smith as Gerald , overly moralizing and perhaps a little young for his age , is all blue eyed blonde tousled hair boyish eagerness to start his career .
Hester Worsley , a young rather prim Puritan American heiress, is played by Crystal Clarke as passionate about freedom and changing society and is courted by Gerald . Eleanor Bron is annoyingly bossy and perhaps funny as luxuriously voiced domineering Lady Caroline Pontefract,who treats her husband John as a henpecked servant or lost parcel.
Anne Reid is excellent as Lady Hunstanton the titled rural hostess , an enticing blend of absent mindedness daftiness and biting perception . Phoebe Fildes makes her mark as a languishing young wife steeped in romantic pensiveness.
Jonathan Fensom’s set designs are detailed and elegant , capturing the era in which the play was set – but they demand a few minutes’ scene-changing each time , which is covered by front-curtain entr’actes in which Anne Reid (Lady Hunstanton) and some of the supporting cast deliver penetratingly ironic yet seemingly sentimental music-hall numbers.