This revival of Oscar Wilde’s 1893 play has a surprising resonance and relevance that goes well beyond its classic drawing room wit.
While often clever, Wilde’s aphorisms can irritate after a while but A Woman Of No Importance carries an underlying challenge about gender inequality that possibly hits home harder now than when first written – we are supposed to have gotten better at this stuff.
The play doesn’t preach but artfully sets up the contrast between society’s treatment of men and women, with Katy Stephens excelling as the maligned Mrs Arbuthnot. Her speech on a mother’s love is as beautifully delivered as it is written, and her expertly-calibrated acting leads a uniformly strong cast.
Isla Blair and Lisa Goddard spar as a pair of wise old matriarchs, and Emma Amos is impishly flirtatious as the apparently amoral Mrs Allonby.
Tim Gibson is an innocent as they come as boy wonder Gerald Arbuthnot, and a sharp contrast in every way to Mark Meadow’s Lord Illongworth – who once may have been called a rogue, now a #MeToo sex pest.
Dominic Dromgoole’s direction is sharp and full of lots of small, brilliant touches, including some arch denigration of the House of Commons and Paul Rider’s delicious drunken balancing act.
Jonathan Fensom’s sets are detailed and monumental, necessitating short between-acts musical numbers by a quartet led by Roy Hudd; these are entertaining and even got the audience singing along, but here alone I would have a preferred a less traditional approach and quicker switches.
This is a rare thing: a classic play, with traditional production values, that feels light, modern, entertaining, and thought-provoking. Go see it.
A Woman Of No Importance continues at the Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, November 9.