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A Woman of No Importance… Or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow, Hen and Chickens Theatre

Katherine Rodden

Directed by Cat Robey
★★★
Pros: A great script, full of big laughs and wonderful slapstick.
Cons: The play starts wonderfully but it spirals into a mildly annoying farce.
Our Verdict: The script is hilarious and the cast are very talented but the performances need toning down towards the end. It’s meant to be a comedy but it all got a bit too silly in the last scene.
Courtesy of Paradigm Theatre
I was very excited to review the latest show from Paradigm Theatre. As the only fringe repertory company in London, they produce four shows a year and I have been lucky enough to see quite a bit of their work. A Woman of No Importance… Or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow isn’t exactly Wilde but it does manage to weave much of his humour and profound subtleties throughout the rich dialogue. Fans of the great man need not despair. In fact, I have a feeling that if he were here today Oscar would have enjoyed many elements of this show.
The play opens on a rather elegantly decorated flat with a large Aubrey Beardsley drawing on the wall. For those who don’t know, Beardsley was Wilde’s book illustrator – rather like Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake – and so the two are forever linked. Under this iconic image, an inebriated young woman attempts a monologue with the help of Oscar’s script and a bottle of Sainsbury’s own brand merlot. Lauren is a spoiled upper class young woman who is struggling with her acting career and alcoholism. She is miserable and alone and has attempted to cheer herself up with a shopping spree. As her self-obsessed grumblings travelled over countless shopping bags towards the audience, I envisioned myself hating this woman for the rest of the play. Luckily, Katherine Rodden plays her at just the right level so she feels more like a real person with flaws rather than the one-note irritation she easily could have been.
Apart from the script, the best thing about this play is certainly the performances. Alan Booty is wonderful as Lauren’s selfish, embarrassing, over-sexed Dad who lavishes cash on his daughter rather than developing a meaningful relationship with her. He is also matched brilliantly with Rachel Dobell who plays his long suffering wife very well indeed, arriving on stage in a mink coat and matching attitude. The two felt like a real couple from the outset and, nestled under the high comedy, there is a certain tenderness between the two which adds a touch of real magic to the superficiality of their lifestyles. Likewise, David Hemsted is terrific as Lauren’s working class boyfriend and his rough-but-sweet characterisation makes a nice contrast to her highly-strung persona.
As the play reached its climax, however, some of the performers began to really play for laughs which felt entirely unnecessary. The slapstick element became annoyingly over-dramatic and the whole thing appeared hugely overplayed. In particular, a fight scene between boyfriend Simon and opportunistic friend Adrian looked more like amateur dramatics than farce. I also heard a lot of unnecessary female screeching going on around the action which only served to aggravate the senses rather than adding to the scene.
Overall, this is a really fun show which gets plenty of big laughs and, despite the irritation at the end, it features some really lovely acting. Once again, director Cat Robey manages to create a show which is multi-layered, exciting and dynamic. The sound and lighting worked together very well and the technical side of the show felt seemless. Despite some of the gentle sexual references, this play seemed fairly family friendly overall and I am pretty sure my own parents would love everything about it.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

A Woman of No Importance… Or Somewhat Little Importance Anyhow runs at the Hen and Chickens Theatre until 23rd February 2013.

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