I wouldn’t consider myself the most well-read when it comes to Oscar Wilde. I’ve read ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, which I adored, but am not very familiar with his dramatic works. I saw a National Theatre Live screening of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in 2015 when David Suchet played Lady Bracknell, and again loved the piece.
When the opportunity to see another Wilde piece onstage came up, I jumped at the chance. The performance is on at Norwich Theatre Royal from the 4th-9th of November. Having given myself a day to think about the performance, I come to this review with mixed thoughts. I have conflicting feelings about the performance itself, and the experience of going to see the play, which I think can be two very different things.
The play itself was wonderful. Hearing Wilde’s words spoken by the cast, I longed to study the text and spend more time with certain ideas and phrases. The cast gave a great performance, and while I wasn’t bowled over by the acting, I found the characters and their behaviours mostly believable. I was particularly fond of the character of Lady Caroline, played by Isla Blair – a no-nonsense older woman who spends most of the play looking for her husband, believing that he cannot possibly look after himself. The only character of slight annoyance was Miss Hester Worsley, played quite beautifully by Georgia Landers, and her preaching tones. Overall, I liked the script of ‘A Woman of No Importance’, but I think I am more likely to seek out the play to read for myself than attend another performance.
My main disappointment was that the audience didn’t seem to reflect the range of people which the play and performance deserved. I find that Wilde’s writing stands up in the modern-day and is very progressive and thought-provoking and believe many students and young people would enjoy the play. However, the audience consisted of a decidedly older generation, and I think that the extremely traditional staging of the play made it feel less accessible to younger viewers. Again, this is such a shame as I know many who value Wilde’s work but would likely have had little time for this adaptation.
This thought was most prominent at three points in the play, when several of the characters came in front of the curtain to perform musical numbers which covered set changes. The first time this occurred, I was surprised but assumed it was a one-off event. As a younger audience member, I felt quite isolated when everyone around me joined in singing a song I had never heard. From the reactions of the performers, I judge that this audience participation was anticipated, and I felt as though I had missed some earlier memo to learn the lyrics.
I had an enjoyable evening seeing ‘A Woman of No Importance’ but wish that more had been done to widen the adaptation to a more diverse audience, as I think both the script and cast had an immense amount to offer.