“Foot of the Hill’s witty Wilde satire was completely charming…
Foot of the Hill’s witty Wilde satire was completely charming. Following a group of Victorian high society personnel, the action takes place over an evening and morning, with relationships slowly unravelling, secrets coming to light, and catty remarks being passed around like a bowl of sweets. At the centre of Wilde’s play is the climate of marriage in a rapidly changing world; be prepared for some brilliantly comic relationships on stage, politeness disguising rudeness, and eavesdropping Americans. Directors Samirah Nizar, Em Merchant and assistant director Emma Crawshaw had a fab directorial debut and should certainly be proud of all their cast and crew.
Mrs Allonby (Cara Crofts) was a spectacular joy to watch. Completely animating the stage and embodying her character’s wit, no scene with Allonby was dull. As her relationship with Lord Illingworth (Will Gwynne) grows over the play, her mastery of Allonby’s unique humour created some brilliant moments to watch as she snides about her present company and any philosophy that Illingworth takes. Likewise, Lady Hunstanton (Ellie Malley) was brilliant start to finish. Truly understanding her character, she took it above and beyond with her character’s insufferable politeness, Victorian morals, and not-so-well-hidden criticism of those around her. These actors were highly talented and completely stole moments of the show through their mastery of character. Some moments from other actors were not as realised as these, including some teething problems in the first scene and an important monologue crashing midway, but that said all the actors gave fantastic performances. Once Illingworth and Mrs. Arbuthnot (Poppy Mawdsley) had taken some time to warm up on stage in what could have been a very tense meeting between past lives, the play took hold and their efforts shone through, with their monologues and anxieties creating tender moments for the audience to be moved by. Sir John (Aisha Smith) and Caroline Pontefract (Rhiannon Morgan) released their marriage’s full comedic potential, with John playing a wearied husband made to follow Caroline around like a lap dog being some of the most comic moments on stage consistently. On the whole, the cast were a delight, and despite any hiccups, all gave worthy performances.
I was slightly disappinted by some of the staging. Trying to make a challenging space work is difficult, and the effort made was definitely apparent, yet many moments in the play were undermined due to their static nature. There was little movement on stage and little to excite the eye to the minimalist set. The play became, at points, too reliant on the facial expressions of stationary actors to help elevate it, when some movement would have helped bring those scenes up to a better standard, and perhaps more should have been done in order to bring the look of the play up to the same quality as the acting. That said I commend the directorial team for their hard work in such a challenging spot, and when the production team (Luke Jansen, Bryony Curley) used enhanced lighting it really transformed the stage and the mood of it, as well as creating clever symbolism.
The stage managing team (Faith Gordon, Daniel Wall) very professionally tackled the problem of setting the stage in between scenes. Occasionally, the choppiness of the sound in those moments did break the immersion for the audience and made these moments drag longer than they should. However despite being minimal, the set was fully considered by Lauren Edwards, complimenting the actors’ clever Victorian reminiscent costumes. Miss Hester Worsley’s white early Edwardian dress was a perfect choice, completely reflecting her painfully puritanical character, which Ashvira Mangat captured the painfulness of perfectly in her performance, setting her apart from the English society ladies and the wicked Mrs Allonby. Well-considered costumes from Sakina Nathoo all round!!
“A Woman of No Importance” was a charming watch, and I can only hope for a successful run for the cast. All parties produced a great deal of effort to make this show, and the audience had a happy time. Considering the number of Freshers within the play, this first attempt inspires promising things to come from all involved.
By Emilia Brookfield-Pertusini