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Theatre Review: A Woman of No Importance @ Vaudeville Theatre

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A Woman of No Importance kicks off a year-long season of Wilde plays for Dominic Dromgoole's new theatre company Classic Spring.

It is a lacklustre start to what will hopefully be a much more refreshing year of theatre in the West End.

A Woman of No Importance is an examination of the way Victorian women were belittled by their husbands and ostracised for their sexual endeavours. Written during a time that feminism was a distant ideology (though arguably this could still be the case), when the men would disappear for whiskey and cigars, and the women would chatter delicately about the absurd idea of being seen as equal.

In this production little is done to modernise such a backwards way of thinking, with the young American girl Hester (Crystal Clark) being the only character outspoken enough to express disgust at the unfair class system. She is, of course, shunned for this idea by the other women.

One main issue is this lack of revitalising such a well known classic. A production like this one may have been very enjoyable in the past, but a modern-day audience is unlikely to get much out of it. It hasn't been adapted in any way to make it more enjoyable, the opening act allows us to watch women draped elegantly in beautiful gowns while each character says not much about anything at all. This is supposed to be entertaining.

That isn't to say Wilde's writing is lacklustre in any way. A Woman of No Importance is a classic for a reason, but unfortunately a lot of his jokes fall flat because of the way they are delivered. There is a lack of conviction in everything that is said alongside a lack of grounding in the actors which leads to a lack of belief in what they are saying. It is an old text, but the cast do nothing to give it youth.

Perhaps this stems from poor direction. A lot of powerful moments are thrown away, for example Dromgoole doesn't allow lines such as "so that's our child" to have time to rest. And therefore does not allow the actor to comprehend the enormity behind such a statement.

Sometimes words and whole phrases are lost due to this: I found myself struggling to hear at times. This isn't to say the acting as a whole is lacking: Dominic Rowan as the illustrious Mr Illingworth is quite mesmerizing, as are select members of the ensemble cast such as Harry Lister Smith as Gerald Arbuthnot and Phoebe Fields as Lady Stutfield.

Certain scene changes, in which the fantastic set design is changed, bring some comical singing from Lady Hunstanton, played by Anne Reid. The first song is dreary enough, the third is slightly overkill.

Overall, this production misses a lot of key moments and takes a very long time to warm up. While the second act is slightly better than the first, it's still quite lacking leaving an unwanted feeling of boredom. Oscar Wilde is a brilliant playwright but this is certainly one play of no importance.

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