An Ideal Husband

Reviewer's Rating

Celebrating 50 years of the Everyman Theatre Company, the Everyman kicks off the season with Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. The anniversary draws a full house to the theatre on a Wednesday evening with all eyes cast upon Michael Twomey’s impeccable production.

Centred on the follies and foes of London’s high society at the close of the nineteenth century and published in1895 amid a swarm of Wilde’s own personal transgressions, An Ideal Husband depicts a genteel look at a decadent society encircled in a trench of immorality and scandal.

Mrs. Cheveley, the calculating temptress played brilliantly by Shirley McCarthy arrives at the home of Sir Robert Chiltern, Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs and his irreproachable wife Lady Chiltern with blackmail and exploitation tucked neatly under her silk glove. An immensely rich woman, money is not what Mrs. Cheveley hopes to attain from this vendetta. Believing power to possess more weight than wealth, she threatens Sir Chiltern with information from his past that could unearth his seemingly unblemished political standing and destroy his marriage. Mrs. Cheveley insists that Sir Chiltern suppress the report he intends to present to the House of Commons denouncing a fraudulent Argentine scheme with which she is involved and instead speak in its favour. Fearing his past crimes will be revealed to initiate the ruin of his marriage and career, Lord Chiltern succumbs to Mrs. Cheveley’s provocations which sets Wilde’s four act tableau into motion.

A portrait of Wilde hangs before the quintessentially Victorian set designed by Jim Queally, the luxurious furnishings, sculptures and artwork are corniced with delicate patterns and affluent fabrics to thrust the audience into the depths of London Society at the dawn of the twentieth century.

The premise of the work is summed up in Ms. Mabel’s loaded declaration, ‘Oh, I love London Society! I think it has immensely improved. It is entirely composed now of beautiful idiots and brilliant lunatics. Just what Society should be.’ Fixated with modernity An Ideal Husband which is set during the Fin de Siècle offers a comparison between the character of Ms. Mabel, the poster child for modernity and the character of Lady Markby, the picture of conservative Victorian principles. The turn of the century brought with it many anxieties as established conventions continued to be challenged by ‘The New Woman’ and suffragettes but yet we see that Ms. Mabel’s main interests in life lie in living to please her future husband and displaying the qualities of an ideal wife. Wilde shows us that even though the modern woman is educated, she still bows to patriarchy while placing her husband upon a ‘monstrous pedestal.’

The colourful costumes created by Mary Newman infuse the Chiltern’s drawing room with life while Michael Twomey’s direction glorifies Wilde’s ever-endearing wit as he wields the morals and manners of London’s elite with sharp and humorous quips. It is the efforts of Twomey’s endowed cast that translate Wilde’s unique humour from page to stage with great clarity. Among the cast, Ian McGuirk, Roisin Donovan, Pat O’ Regan and Shirley McCarthy offer particularly charismatic performances.

Oscar Wilde’s illustrious play is brought to Cork’s distinguished Palace where it is met with resounding applause in celebration of the past 50 years.