The RSC's unofficial "Long-lost natural sons who turn up to make their fathers' lives complete and then go doolally on them" season continues with Philip Prowse's defiantly lush late-Victorian kitsch production of Wilde's 1893 skeleton-in-closet play. Against a stomach-churningly gilded set which at one point evokes the phrase "Turkish tart's boudoir", Prowse's cast move and speak in a manner that takes Wildean poise to ritualistic extremes.
Rather than leaving the audience softened and vulnerable to the drama, poetry and sentiment revealed as the play progresses, though, this approach numbs them – the wronged Mrs Arbuthnot (or "Aargh-burghth-naught", as her erstwhile seducer insists on calling her) sits among the fripperies like Patience on a monument; the whole spectacle lacks focus and perspective. Oscar is more than just a consummate epigrammatist, but that "more" can't be taken for granted. Prowse not only does so, but contrives to turn even the jewels into glass – gaudy, but of no durability or worth.
Written for City Limits magazine.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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