A Woman of No Importance at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Illness prevented me from attending the first night last week of the King’s latest offering.

But its stellar cast, with no less than Shakespeare’s Globe’s former artistic director Dominic Dromgoole at the helm, was certainly not something I wanted to miss and so, though still not up to par, I bought a ticket and caught its last night in Edinburgh.

I’m so glad I did! What a tonic! This magnificent production restored me to good health almost immediately.

A product of Dromgoole’s relatively new Classic Spring Theatre Company, A Woman of No Importance exudes quality, from Jonathan Fensom’s sumptuous sets and exquisite costumes to Oscar Wilde’s sparkling wit, impeccably delivered by the likes of Isla Blair, Liza Goddard, Roy Hudd, Katy Stephens, Emma Amos and John Bett.

The play opens with a party of aristocrats idly gossiping on the terrace of a realistic country house. 

Dominating the gathering is Lady Caroline, whose constant bullying of her husband is a highlight of the play in the hands of Isla Blair - her delivery of Wilde’s scathing put downs undoubtedly puts her on an equal footing with Maggie Smith’s Dowager Duchess of Grantham!  In complete contrast, Liza Goddard’s host Lady Hunstanton is a bright, wide-eyed people pleaser – the ying to Lady Caroline’s yang.

Though Wilde’s ‘gossip’ is anything but idle, it is not until the end of Act II that the action really begins, with widow Mrs Arbuthnot making an entrance and objecting to her son Gerald’s recent appointment as private secretary to notorious flirt Lord Illingworth.

It transpires that Gerald is the product of an affair she had with the Lord 20 years before, unbeknown to him, and Katy Stephens turns in a riveting performance as a passionate woman watching her ‘scandalous’ past unfurling in front of society – and a real eye-opening situation for today’s younger generations. How times have changed!

There are lots of well-rounded characters in this lavish production: John Bett is wonderful as Lady Caroline’s long-suffering husband; Mark Meadows’s Lord Illingworth is certainly someone ladies should keep at a distance, while Paul Rider’s Kelvil, at times both stuffy and lecherous, steals a scene when he drunkenly tries to sit on the arm of a chair. Will Kelly as Lord Alfred (well, there has to be one in a Wilde play) also plays a jolly good drunk, while Georgia Landers makes her mark as an outspoken young American who reminds me more than a little of Megan Markle.

This is a first-class production, but what makes it stand out even more is completely unexpected. I did think of not mentioning it at all, and letting those of you who have yet to see this enjoy the surprise, but it is such a treat I couldn’t not write about it.

Until now I have omitted to acknowledge the legend that is Roy Hudd: comedian, actor, presenter and author whose series The News Huddlines was the longest running comedy series on radio. At 83 he is still touring and he injects his own inimitable personality into his role as the Archdeacon (was there ever an archdeacon so enjoyably expressive?).

He is, of course, also a... sorry, THE recognised authority on the British Music Hall, and that is where A Woman of No Importance becomes even more special, if not a little off the wall. For during the scene changes we are treated to a wholly (and certainly not holy!) different show as, accompanied by members of the cast on various musical instruments, the irrepressible Mr Hudd, complete in clerical robes, performs a couple of music hall songs and a monologue. It couldn’t get any better!

A Woman of No Importance continues touring:
Oct 8-12: Arts Theatre, Cambridge
Oct 22-26: Perth Theatre, Perth
Oct 29-Nov 2: Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
Nov 5-9: Theatre Royal, Norwich
Image: Robert Day