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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

An Ideal Husband, theatre review

Published in The Guardian

An Ideal Husband

Pitlochry Festival theatre
3 out of 5

For today's audiences, the actions of Sir Robert Chiltern in Oscar Wilde's comedy of political intrigue seem romantic. Like more than one of our own leaders, he has a skeleton in his closet. His secret is that he made his fortune by what we now call insider trading: tipping off an investor about the government's plans for the Suez canal. Chiltern's prevarication when he is blackmailed by the manipulative Mrs Cheveley is a trait we recognise. Quite unrecognisable, however, is his decision to retire from public life even after he has successfully kept the secret quiet. Who today would show such scruples?

The question of how reasonable it is to expect perfection from loved ones and political representatives will always stay with us. On the one hand, Chiltern has built his wealth on a criminal act; on the other, he has behaved with integrity ever since.

It is a dichotomy that fuels the play's dramatic tension and one in which we can presume Wilde had a particular interest: two of the actors in the original 1895 production went on to testify against him in his trial for gross indecency. He was not a writer who felt he should be judged on his every action.

Despite this eternal dilemma, it is easy to mistake An Ideal Husband for a play about vacuous posh people in pretty frocks. It is not an illusion the Pitlochry company entirely dispels. Martine McMenemy plays Cheveley not as a dangerous tactician but as a silly coquette. With her sing-song delivery, she is more irritation than threat to Graham Vick's Chiltern. And this is a production in which the characters in general are too aware of their own ridiculousness. More gravitas – and less erratic emphasis – would earn more laughs and strike more notes of recognition.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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