Pros: Oscar Wilde’s sparkling wit brought to life with enthusiasm.
Cons: The cast seem uncomfortable in the small space, and the lead role’s accent somewhat breaks the illusion.
The set of the opening scene of Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime consists of three chairs, a half moon table, a couple of potted plants and a backdrop of French windows that are obligatory to any Oscar Wilde production. The bare furniture is all that can be crammed onto the tiny stage of the Barons Court theatre: the stage area, just ten feet square, is surrounded on three sides by audience seating squeezed into the vaults either side of supporting brick columns.
Unfortunately, it’s not the most comfortable space for the actors to perform in, and on the evening I went it was made even less so by the arrival of latecomers who, rather than sitting at the back, chose to cross the stage itself to take their seats during the first scene. The action begins in the drawing room of Lady Windermere, a favourite character of Oscar Wilde, at which she invites the fortune-telling chiromancer Septimus Podgers to entertain her guests by reading their palms. Her aim is to humiliate rather than enlighten the hapless victims, all of whom she controls with an unstoppable will.
After a couple of cursory readings, it’s time for the fortunes of serial philanderer Lord Arthur Savile, who has just announced his intended marriage. But now the palm reader is reluctant to reveal his findings. When pressed to do so, he explains to Lord Arthur alone that his palm indicates that he will commit a murder – and that the victim will be none other than his fiancee. And so the scene is set, and for the rest of the evening Lord Arthur must struggle with his attempt to extricate himself from the forces of destiny.
Based on one of Wilde’s short stories, this dramatisation is a literal and faithful adaptation that packs in all the best lines. The set speeches are as sparkling as ever: “She only took one lover,” says Savile of an acquaintance, “and was faithful to him through four marriages.” And when Savile suggests he kills a tramp instead, as a substitute for someone close to him: “Tramps hold no-one close. It is one of the drawbacks of their profession.”
Lord Arthur is played by Christian Deal, who looks exactly the part: tall, patrician, square-jawed, and with cheekbones that could crack walnuts. The trouble is that he speaks with a strong Spanish accent, which feels a little strange coming from a supposed member of the English aristocracy. This somewhat breaks the illusion, and sadly some of his best lines are lost in a rushed delivery.
Lord Arthur aside, the cast seem a little ill at ease in the small set, constantly fiddling with the furniture or gazing intently at the intrusive brick pillars; The cast have bucket loads of enthusiasm, but unfortunately, despite this, the production doesn’t rise to the occasion
Author: Oscar Widle
Adapted by: Ronald Selwyn Phillips
Director: Alexandria Giorgiana Dobirceanu
Producer: Deconstruction Theatre Company
Booking Until: 23rd May
Box Office: 020 8932 4747
Booking Link: http://www.offwestend.com/index.php/theatres/book/42?play=12621