Phoenix Theatre Company at Christ Church
“The essential thing for a tie is style.”
And for Wilde, too. Daniel Curley's impressive production of A Woman of No Importance began with an empty stage, peopled first with chairs, then with stares, as the cast peered at one another in a striking tableau.
The first part of the play is all words, with the witty aphorisms leavening the introduction of the characters and their milieu. The social commentary/melodrama comes to the boil after the interval. It's a tough blend to bring off, but Phoenix scored some notable successes, in the Act III climax, for instance, or the resolution in Act IV.
Paulette Harris gave a strong performance in the title role; different from other women, expressing her deep hurt with stillness and sincere emotion. Quite unlike the society ladies whose company she has avoided: Lady Caroline [a splendid Liz Curley] or the flirty Mrs Allonby [Tricia Childs] or the mousey Lady Stutfield, a well-judged cameo from Faye Armstrong, picking up what few laughs were to be had from the first night audience.
The thoroughly bad Lord Illingworth, surrounded by sycophantic laughter, was Geoff Hadley, and his illegitimate son, the object of his desire, according to some commentators, was a dapper Louise Curley. Her sister Josephine played the Puritan, whose straight state-side talking cut through the hypocrisy of the British aristocracy.
A very promising start to this, Phoenix's Golden Anniversary year.