A woman of no importance review

This was the first of several Oscar Wilde revivals by Clear Spring, a company dedicated to celebrating work written and performed under the proscenium arch, and therefore needs to be seen as an education as much as a play.

This early work of Wilde’s is an uneasy mix of drawing room wit and an altogether darker social realism. The joins do show, but for all its structural failings this is was a bold play for its time, with well-rounded female roles and would put many modern productions to shame. Eve Best and Dominic Rowan, playing the abused and abuser, bring a depth and maturity to their roles beyond the text, while Anna Reid and Eleanor Bron’s society ladies offer fine comic relief. Some of the supporting roles feel mannered by comparison, and some of the comic songs outstay their welcome, but this was a solid stab at a difficult play, and a fascinating insight into the dramatic sensibilities that would ultimately direct Wilde towards the masterpieces to come.

In its examination of the hypocrisy of a society that shunned abused women, there is an uncomfortable resonance with our own times, but it would be a mistake to make too much of that. This is a period play and director Dominic Dromgoole is to be commended for playing it straight.

David Vass