Review: An Ideal Husband
An Ideal Husband at The Gate Theatre, Dublin
Structurally, Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband is highly conventional, conforming perfectly to the 19th Century ideal of the "well-made play". But it is unconventional in its demotion of Victorian morality in favour of Wilde's own morality, based on charity and love.
Though Wilde's views are overtly expressed, through the resolutely unmarried dandy Lord Goring (Marty Rea), it remains a typically sparkling social comedy, packed with aphoristic wit and wisdom.
In Ethan McSweeney's wonderfully vivacious production, the sparkle never flags and there's an almost perfect balance between the play's lightness of tone and its serious import. And there's dazzling repartee aplenty, for, as Lord Goring says, society men are all dowdies and the women all dandies.
Mabel Chiltern (Siobhán Cullen) is the perfect foil for Lord Goring, as playfully paradoxical as the man she makes little secret of loving, and with an equal share of convention-busting wit. Cullen, like her colleagues, is perfectly cast, vibrant and crackling with charm.
Mrs Cheveley (Aoibheann O'Hara) is the lady with a past who blackmails Mabel's brother, the MP Sir Robert Chiltern (Garrett Lombard), a man of stainless reputation, over a shady deal that was the foundation of his political success. O'Hara embodies the "fascinating woman" whose sex is "a challenge, not a defence", subtly smouldering, stinging with chilling wit and more irresistibly appealing as the play unfolds.
Sir Robert's wife Lady Gertrude (Lorna Quinn) is no wit, she's a lady of principle who loves her husband for his unimpeachable integrity. When it comes into question, her world falls apart and Quinn provides moments of intense emotional drama when she confronts her suddenly non-ideal husband.
Garrett Lombard's parallel lapse from a slightly overdone stiffness into near panic at impending ruin is a long time coming, but is all the more convincing for that.
Lord Goring also undergoes a change, his dandyish coating dangerously tarnished in his attempts to save Sir Robert. But there are no jarring effects in Marty Rea's subtle performance as the fop with a moral centre.
There are brilliantly observed performances throughout, even in as minor a character as Phipps – the 'ideal butler' – played with delightful comic precision by Simon Coury.
Peter O'Brien's religiously researched and designed costumes offer material equivalents to the production's scintillating wit. In tandem with Francis O'Connor's deftly designed and beautifully versatile set, a kind of reflective glasshouse suggestive of a hall of mirrors, we have an ideal production of Wilde's thought-provoking comedy.