A Woman of No Importance is part of the Vaudeville’s Oscar Wilde season, it is a play about misunderstandings and hidden pasts with a cast full of eccentric, larger-than-life characters. It is set at a country house party, with all of the drama unfolding over the course of one evening and the following morning. The dialogue is fast paced and witty, with characters tossing remarks back and forth but also stretches into more emotional monologues and exchanges.
It starts out very slowly, the whole first scene feels as though it’s simply preparation for the inevitable drama that will follow, but it’s hard to tell what that will be. It’s not until almost at the interval that it becomes clear where the real story is. However, the dialogue that takes place around the central plot is entertaining and had the audience laughing throughout. All of the cast are very impressive in their roles of the various exaggerated and stereotypical characters: the overbearing wife, the flirty widow, the exhausted husband. The timing of the jokes was always perfect and kept the dialogue flowing. However, these exchanges felt longer and longer as the first act went on, with the audience having no clear idea of where it was all leading.
The play felt very superficial to begin with, but this changed when Mrs Arbuthnot (Eve Best) entered halfway through the first act, Best’s character brought a layer of emotion and depth to the performance. Her performance added substance to what could have become a very unvarying production. The play continues to shift away from quips and debates and centres on the drama surrounding Mrs Arbuthnot, which changes the pace and gives the show some variety. Although the cast maintained their energy throughout, the pace of the production still didn’t seem quite right, maybe there was too much melodrama at the end and not enough at the beginning. Best’s performance was the highlight, it was emotional but not overdramatic, and gave voice to the sort of character who is usually overlooked in plays of this period.
The performance was enjoyable but something felt off, as though all of the separate pieces didn’t quite fit together. There was a musical interlude starring Anne Reid between each scene change, these were funny and unusual but also felt slightly out of place and overdone. There was only a resolution for the main characters, which makes some sense since that is where the drama was centred, but it felt as though the rest of the cast faded out of the plot without any real conclusion.
A Woman Of No Importance is running until 30th December at the Vaudeville Theatre.
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