Who knew how much theatre North East London had to offer? Call me ignorant but I have been amazed by the amount and variety of fringe productions I have seen here recently, particularly in the Islington/Angel area. Although it may take you a little bit longer to come upon the Rosemary Branch Theatre, this cosy pub venue offers every bit as much entertainment as its N1 comrades. The upstairs performance space is almost cubic in shape, with the effect that, regardless of where you are sitting, you will feel well in on the action.
Oscar Wilde’s comedic stage play, ‘An Ideal Husband’, deals candidly with themes of bribery and corruption; issues that remain constantly relevant through the passing of time, this being no more aptly illustrated than the five film adaptations that have been produced of this play. I cannot, however, see this story being better told than in its stage form, and while the simplicity with which this cast portrayed the tale was refreshing, the action was occasionally on the cusp of becoming oversimplified. In fairness, this was not helped by the fact that the play essentially relies on one storyline, with a light smattering of sub-plot emerging only in the second act. The one piece of visible set, which appeared to be some kind of twisted branch doorway, was only made use of on one isolated occasion, which made me question the necessity of any set at all; perhaps a blank canvas of a stage would have been more effective.
The actors performed admirably, especially given that there was nowhere to hide, and it was the female contingent that truly stole the show. Mrs Cheveley, the snake in the grass who attempts to ruin a politician’s successful career by producing incriminating evidence about his past, was cunningly portrayed by Sheridan Johnson, although I felt that at points she was somewhat guarded. Rose Robinson’s conception of Gertrude Chiltern effectively portrayed an innocent who puts up a front of haughtiness, and her comic timing was impeccable. The star for me was Emily MacDonald, who played Mabel Chiltern. The combination of her dry wit and cynicism drew lots of well-deserved guffaws from the audience. The strength of the female actors does not mean that the men performed weakly; they were merely outshone by their leading ladies.
This is a tale of backbiting and underhanded tactics, interspersed with no shortage of comic moments, which eventually arrives at a triumphant climax. I thoroughly recommend it to you.
An Ideal Husband continues at the Rosemary Branch Theatre until 7th April, book here.
Written by a Thoroughly Modern Man, Mark McCloskey.