KAY LYNN reviews UCL Drama Society’s offering, Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband.
The stage: a three-tiered set, a cast decorating it as the audience takes their seats. They sniff flowers, hang banners, and prepare to welcome us into the Chilterns’ home. With that, the UCL Drama Society embarked on a nuanced take on An Ideal Husband, Oscar Wilde’s 1895 satire about London society, the marriage market, and political corruption.
Firstly, I must commend the production designers. I particularly enjoyed the clever use of colour to contrast the female leads. The team dressed Lady Chiltern, the moral and upright wife of soon-to-be disgraced Robert Chiltern, in a blue-gray shade reminiscent of popular depictions of Mother Mary. In contrast, the show’s villainous blackmailer Mrs Cheveley was given an over-the-top blush job and a rouge colour palette (red or scarlet being a popular colour used to mark the dangerous, immoral woman).
The set was luxurious, with upholstered sofas and wooden desks. Its three tiers were utilised well by the directors (Sophie Eaton and Jai Aerin Britto). Actors were distributed across them. In the first party scene, guests mingle on the first tier while the servants observe from the second and third tiers. It felt as though we were looking in on London society and its rituals. The upper tiers were also used for dramatic irony, for example, concealing Mrs Cheveley and Lord Chiltern’s deal from the rest of the characters. The lighting and sound design was simple yet effective, unobtrusive and seamless. Particularly interesting was the use of shadow play to tell the story within the play and give us background on Lord Chiltern’s misdeeds.
The whole company also gave fantastic performances. I was very impressed by the first scene’s ensemble, where they kept up the rituals of party social interaction without distracting from the action in the foreground. Rob Davidson (playing Lord Goring) had excellent comedic timing and physicality, while Alice Hemmings (playing Lady Chiltern) delivered a heart-wrenching performance. They were accompanied by Josh Moore’s (Lord Chiltern) mockery of his character as well as place in London society, finely balanced with the emotional nuance demanded by his situation. The main cast was rounded off by Avesta Maqsudi (Mrs Cheveley) lovely handling of her character’s coyness and flirtatiousness, surprising us occasionally with coldness and delicious heartlessness.
Beneath its witty one-liners and physical comedy, An Ideal Husband criticises greed and corruption in London society, debates morality, and examines the marriage market. What is upstanding and right in one’s reach for success? What lies beyond the frills and fine wine of the upper class, the one who runs our government and society? These are all questions that the production pushed us to ask, and in doing so, reasserted the place of Wilde’s play in our world today.
The team has delivered a cohesive and highly entertaining take on An Ideal Husband. This writer is excited to see what else the Drama Society has in store.