Lord Arthur Savile's Crime
Oscar Wilde, adapted by Trevor Baxter
Richmond Theatre and touring
Can we choose our course in life, or are we merely the helpless pawns of fate?
Young Lord Arthur Savile (Lee Mead) seems to have it all: handsome, privileged and set to marry his sweetheart Miss Sybil Merton until palm-reader Septimus Podgers (Gary Wilmot) reads murder in the lines of Arthur's hand. Fearful that the tendency to hurt those we love might endanger his Sybil, Arthur is encouraged by Podgers to murder someone else instead.
Trevor Baxter's adaptation of Oscar Wilde's short story brings out the comic elements and renders the language at times quite modern, yet retaining a true Wildean spirit: combined with Christopher Luscombe's production and direction pedigree, a charming slice of Victoriana is presented by a small and perfectly formed ensemble cast.
Kate O'Mara's majestic Lady Windermere epitomizes the aristocratic soirée scene and nicely nods to the ghost of Dame Edith Evans, while Louisa Clein is a sweet and ever-hopeful Sybil. David Ross is a lovable clock-loving and ever-confused Dean and Belinda Carroll, an unsuspecting Aunt Clementina, oblivious to the (well-meant) machinations of her young relative.
Lee Mead's fine acting ability was evident in his critically acclaimed and much loved musical lead as Joseph and it is thrilling to see him take on his first dramatic role so successfully: he is Lord Arthur, from swish of coat tail to a cut-glass English accent that is maintained throughout.
Mead proves a perfect foil to Gary Wilmot's dodgy Mr. Podgers, who may just be a total fraud. Both men find themselves seeking the services of Derren Nesbitt's Herr Winckelkopf, a characterization that is almost as explosive as the devices he creates.
It is rare nowadays to experience the intricate plotting of melodrama, a genre that (like Shakespearean comedy) ends happily, yet allows for glimpses of darkness along the way. For, as well as being an hilarious critique on marriage (almost every line an aphoristic gem), the play presents a post-Darwinian and late-Victorian society, captivated by new sciences and questioning religion.
The stage and set lovingly recreates a lost world of pecadillos and bonbons as footman (Victor Burbidge) lights gas-lamps and manages large cards that drolly describe each change of scene, while on-stage musicians (Anna McNicholas; and Matthew Wycliffe, also doubling as a policeman) provide melodramatic punctuation at just the right moments. We even get a foggy Thames.
At just two hours duration this is joyous and fun for all ages and, if the fates allow, should sell-out for the rest of its run.
A luscious little treat.
At Richmond Theatre until Saturday 13 February, then at venues in Brighton, Edinburgh, Blackpool, Manchester, Plymouth, Malvern, Leeds, Worthing, Cardiff and Bath. To 24 April 2010.
Reviewer: Anita-Marguerite Butler