Oscar Wilde's play which he subtitled "A trivial comedy for serious people" is a gem which can be polished intricately to a lapidary marvel as far as production values go, or it can equally be simply set as a solitaire to be admired as a piece of work perfectly capable of shining in its own right.
This observation comes from many years of seeing different directorial approaches and, rather like Shakespeare, Wilde is capable of withstanding most approaches. I've seen it done with ornate furnishings and top notch set and costumes, or as an utterly simple stripped-to-the-bone Beardsley-style production. Both worked.
Here in the pleasant Saturday afternoon matinee surroundings of the Little Theatre, even if the weather outside wasn't cooperating, we could relax and enjoy director Chrissie O'Connor's middle ground production.
Middle ground in that although there were no unnecessary flourishes in set or costuming, her production was full of extremely well thought out details which were a constant delight throughout the play.
Starting with the joy of Mr Tom Hind at the pianoforte entertaining us before curtain up, during the interval and at the end of the show with his Music Hall songs and brass band tunes such as Daisy, Daisy and other delights like I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside, that we all hummed along to with glee. While the play itself was introduced to the tune of The Man Who Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo.
Iain Attiwell was a perfectly suave, skilled and excellent Manservant Lane, (even if his hair would have benefited from a tidy up trim) his smooth movements a treat as he served his master the somewhat flighty Algernon Moncrieff. Tim Tilbury created Algy as a young man utterly devoted to a life of personal pleasure with no real thought for tomorrow. Matt Jones as his friend John Worthing was totally at ease and elegant in his formal morning dress, while using his expressive voice and face to advantage.
Margaret Corry's presence as Lady Bracknell preceded her on to the stage. A vision in lavender and lace she took naturally to being the object of everyone's attention as she laid down the Bracknell law on every subject of conversation that came up, either from her own or other people's opinions. The hall, however, is large so her voice was at times fighting a losing battle with it.
As the Honourable Gwendolen Fairfax Charlotte Jones was a smart young woman determined not to do what her mother ordered but, as has been observed elsewhere, was probably destined to turn into her formidable parent at a later stage. Louise McMorrin's delightfully bright, sweet young lady Cecily, entirely driven by "romantic" vibrations from books and her own notions, was a charmer.
In the engine house of this comedy Catherine Attiwell's sturdy Miss Prism not only minded her own ps and qs, but also those of her charge, and fluttered nicely at Mark Godfrey's extremely tall Canon Chasuble. His splendid emphasis on literary allusions alternately rising to a peak and then falling to a whisper in true oratorical style.
Then, of course, there was Merrieman, the butler at the country residence, in the shape of Vernon Keeble-Watson tottering on stage as though he might not make it; appearing in the last stages of decrepitude and increasing irritability.
Delightful surprises included the appearance of John Worthing's perfect, surprise entrance at the end of Act 2 in the full panoply of heaviest Victorian mourning including black bordered handkerchief, to the piano accompaniment of Where Shall We Be In A Hundred Years From Now? Which brought the house down.
Yet more delight from something I always love - choreographed scene changing. Instead of going to black, taking ages to change scenery and actors having to work up again to previous levels of tensions, lights were dimmed but the stage management crew of Ed Shearer's team of Peter Farenden and Martin Tilbury were choreographed and costumed as house movers of the period who moved in, took off unneeded items and changed town to country so smoothly to piano accompaniment. Every time this earned them enthusiastic, well deserved applause.
In Chrissie's pretty traditional production set in 1910, scenery and set dressing were relatively simple, but had some good touches such as the Beardsley-style screen, the Gustave Klimt-style painting, and other indications of decadence including the bust wearing a black fedora with a red ribbon band, set at a rakish angle.
Costuming was good, influenced by The Dressing Up Box, although some corseting wouldn't have gone amiss. Even though I know it adds to the cost but period costumes don't hang or look right without this. John Gadd's wigs were excellent.
All in all, yet another triumph for the Guildonians and for Chrissie O'Connor in this enjoyable production. I so enjoyed the attention to detail, even the tiniest things.
June 22 2015