On the 15th of February I was lucky enough to gain a last-minute ticket to a sold out performance of A Woman of No Importance, directed by Dan Maddison at The Lace Market Theatre – and upon seeing it, it was definitely obvious why it was sold out. One of the many classics written by Oscar Wilde, this independent theatre company’s interpretation certainly did this great play justice.
As a fan of Wilde, I was delighted to see the company’s skilful acting bringing the farce in his script to life. The fantastic contemporary costumes (collaboratively produced by Barry Holland, Doreen Hunt and Doreen Sheard) were also beautiful to look at and really took the audience to the 1890s. Whilst David Hope’s simplistic back drop of faux-marble arches and outdoor patio furniture meant there was purposefully no distraction from the actors’ excellent performances.
This allowed everyone from Olga Karaiosif as Alice and Thomas Broadhurt as Farquhar (the play’s two tired, fed-up servants) to all stand out, despite being a moderately large cast. In fact, Farquhar in particular made an impression, what with his brilliantly exasperated eye rolls often pulling laughs out of the audience.
As for the larger roles, Lady Caroline Pontefract and Lady Jane Hunstanton was played superbly by Beverley Anthony and Eileen Frier-Kelsey respectively, and between them they achieved this brilliantly humorous relationship. Their uppish, upper-class views on life frequently left the audience in giggles, whilst Mr. Kelvil and Archdeacon Dayveney (performed by Stephen Herring and Peter Hillier) gave some equally important comedic insight into Wilde’s fin-de-siècle world of politics and religion.
Meanwhile the totemic, puritanical Hester Worsley (played by Ruth Page, with a flawless American accent), flitted across the stage brilliantly as she tried to make sense of the fusty British society around her. This was often very amusing in itself, but Hester also raised some very important points about how the Victorians treated women and the lower classes. Playing off the ever excitable Gerald Arbuthnot (performed wonderfully by Nick Parvin), this New Woman definitely provided a glimmer of hope for the audience to root for in the cloud of confusion that Wilde creates.
Another memorable performance came from the duo of Mrs Allonby and Lady Stutfield. These two tongue-in-cheek gals brought a great contrast of innocence and mischief which created some delightful “quite, quite” humorous moments. This is carried on by Lord Illingworth (played wittily by Guy Evans) too, who sparred with Mrs Allonby so wildly that they almost create this kind of comic madness between them – something especially encouraged by Lord Illingworth’s constantly changing views on the world and women.
Of course, this potent pair never fully eclipses the all-important Rachel Abuthnot (performed incredibly emotively by Kay Harrison) though. This strong character brought out the real tragedy that comes with lost innocence and heartbreak, and she embodied perfectly Wilde’s rebellious attitudes against authority and the socially normalised mistreatment of women. However, it really remains remarkable just how much her character and the issues she raises are still very pertinent today.
A Woman of No Importance was a real pleasure to watch, and if given the chance I would highly suggest for you to watch it. This particular Lace Market show was consistently heavily sold out, however if you follow them on Facebook and Twitter you should be able to hear first about a number of exciting performances they have coming up.