Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

robert and goring

Richard Millward as Sir Robert Chiltern needing help from his friend Viscount Goring as Robbie Newton. Pictures: Mark Hinton

An Ideal Husband

Sutton Arts Theatre


There are times when an amateur production is amateur only by the simple fact that no one is paid in anything but applause and there was plenty of that in this most enjoyable journey through the mores of late Victorian society from the acerbic pen of Oscar Wilde.

Wilde had the wonderful knack of writing plays with lighthearted, clever plots which would amuse and delight the theatre-going public, and could offend no one. He also had the knack of pricking the pomposity, snobbery, arrogance and pretentiousness of the upper classes with delicious wit, which more than a hundred years on are still funny and, for those who not only want to keep up with but rise triumphantly above the Joneses, still find their targets today.

The story is simple. A rising star in the Government has a secret he would perhaps rather keep that way; meanwhile a gold, silver, ruby, and pretty well anything valuable digger knows his secret and also she knows how he can use his Government position to lie, which would mean saving her large investment from becoming waste paper. A case of two wrongs make a . . . well, fortune really.The compromised minister's only hope is his clever, pleasure-seeking friend, Lord Goring.

Richard Millward is a dapper Sir Robert Chiltern, junior minister, who with his wife, Gertrude, played by Stephanie Miles, open the play where they are holding a gathering for the great and good. The  pair are excellent, a delight to watch, exploring a whole range of emotions and always being credible and believable.

Among the guests is their friend Viscount Goring, a flamboyant, idle dandy, impeccably dressed bachelor, donning button holes, full of charm and endless wit, always holding centre stage and always annoyingly clever, so much so you cannot help but think that Wilde wrote the part based very much upon himself.  

Cheverley and Gertrude

Liz Berriman as Mrs Cheveley and Stephanie Miles as Gertrude, Lady Chiltern - the best of enemies

Robbie Newton is developing into a remarkably accomplished actor and he makes the part of the Viscount his own with a masterful performance. Watch when he is on stage and he is always alive and animated with gestures and facial expressions as if he is in a real drawing room and listening to a jolly interesting conversation for the first time.

Against that trio is another outstanding performance, this time from Liz Berriman as Mrs Cheveley, a guest at the soiree who is neither great nor good. She has arrived from Vienna with a get rich quick - if the plan works out -.scheme. She is larger than life, confident and a very persuasive lady (lady being a term rarely used about her in polite circles one suspects) offering what seems to be a suggestion of pleasures of the flesh, or a more earthly and somewhat more guaranteed threat of blackmail to get her way.

The quartet are the main protagonists but there are some fine supports with Andrew Tomlinson as Goring’s exasperated father Lord Caversham who is trying hard to persuade his son to find something . . . anything . . . useful to do, and to get married.

Then there is Miss Mabel Chiltern played with a flirty playfulness by Georgina Kerr-Jones, flirty with Lord Goring that is . . . now where can that be heading . . .

Val Tomlinson weighs in as Lady Markby, who finds modern, educated women not to her taste, this modest emancipation is apparently having an effect on marriage.

goring and Mabel

Robbie Newton as Goring and Georgina Kerr-Jones as Mabel

The Countess of Basildon, Alison Odell and Mrs Marchmont, Kathryn Vance, spend their time bemoaning politics and anything serious in their own personal workshop of frivolity.

Aarrom Armstrong-Craddock turns up as French embassy attaché Vicomte de Nanjac in act 1, then no doubt after a Victorian example of Brexit, he was then reduced to Goring’s servant James. And among the servants we had Sir Robert’s butler Mason, Tom Cooper and Goring’s Butler, Phipps, Lee Connelly.

A bit more upmarket is Mr Montford, Sir Robert’s secretary, played by James Thomas, and adding to the 1890s atmosphere the likes of Emma Armstrong-Craddock as Lady Jane Barford with Seanna Rondet joining the guests.

The costumes (wardrobe mistress Phebe Jackson) from the theatre’s own wardrobe and Lichfield Costume Hire, look and feel authentic which helps to create an immediate atmosphere while the set design by director Dexter Whitehead provides a show of its own.

Sutton Arts is a theatre without flies or wings, a wysiwyg stage, which means anything with a set beyond the likes of Waiting for Godot needs imagination. So the three major changes become a choreographed cross between military tattoo and ballet, all set to music and carried out by a black tailed crew. It could have been a slow interruption destroying the flow of the main feature but instead it gave us amusing interludes . . . including moving pictures. (Stage director Paul Wescott)

An Ideal Husband just beat The Importance of Being Earnest to the stage with both just beating Wilde’s claim for libel damages from the Marquis of Queensbury, which was the catalyst for his being charged with gross indecency, which resulted in Reading Goal and effectively ended his career.

Ideal Husband was the third of his commissioned drawing room plays and when the play was published in 1899 his name was omitted, the play was published as “By the author of Lady Windermere's Fan”. No one could have mistaken the wit, style and clever one liners about the absurdities of society as being Wilde though.

And that sums up this production as one with wit, style and above all, elegant fun. To 09-10-21.

Roger Clarke


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