Satire, scandal and silliness: An interview with the cast and crew of An Ideal Husband
Catch Oscar Wildes’ An Ideal Husband at the Bloomsbury Theatre from November 16th to 18th
UCL Drama Society is bringing a new rendition of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 play, An Ideal Husband, to Bloomsbury Theatre.
Wilde’s play satirises Victorian upper-class society and the political scene as the threat of scandal looms over a young politician. A series of unfortunate coincidences bring other characters into complicated comedic scenarios, compromising his marriage and public reputation.
The London Tab spoke to members of the cast and crew to find out more, and hear what they had to say about DramaSoc’s new version of the play.
Described by one of the show’s directors, Jai Britto, as “a comedy with tender moments, and a bit of farce”, the production promises to uphold Wilde’s timeless relevance. DramaSoc’s interpretation will not only poke fun at Victorian high society, but should feel remarkably familiar to students living through the turbulent and nefarious nature of current politics.
Calling on scandalous elements of the plot, Rob Davidson – who plays Lord Goring, the foppish bachelor – saw similarities with the recent state of the Conservative government: “The ongoing Covid enquiry is all about scandals, contracts and dodgy deals… Anyone who is interested in satire will enjoy it.”
As well as mocking high society in a way that feels fitting in today’s political environment, the play encourages interesting discussions concerning moral standards.
“It’s very forgiving despite being so scathing – the characters have strong and unbending ideals, but all have to make compromises, which is something that is missing from conversation in this cultural moment,” said Britto, recounting the reasons behind choosing An Ideal Husband.
Continuing her reasoning, Britto explained that emphasising aspects of Wilde’s personality that aren’t usually explored was particularly important: “Wilde is often seen as traditional and conservative, but he was radical, subversive and daring.”
DramaSoc’s version of the play vows to preserve this flamboyance and flair – in a notable difference from other interpretations, Lord Caversham will be played in drag, representing both an homage to Lady Bracknell – typically played as such in The Importance of Being Earnest – and a “modern response” to the play.
Fostering opportunities for more female and non-binary actors was also a valuable aspect affecting their creative decisions.
“Gender dynamics in the play are so important – it wouldn’t serve the play to cast it gender-blind, but it was a good way to get involved with more non-binary and female actors, and give them more opportunity,” Britto said, highlighting the tendency of DramaSoc to choose male-heavy casts despite the large female involvement in the society.
Despite the enthusiasm of the cast and crew, they were met with some difficulties in bringing this production to life.
Casting the male lead, the rising politician Sir Robert Chiltern, proved challenging as producers searched for a more unconventional approach.
Explaining that the male lead is largely seen and played as a “tragic hero”, Britto briefly described the audition process: “We interpreted it differently, partly for humour. A lot of jokes are taken at his expense, and we wanted our male characters to be ridiculous and hysterical. A lot of our actors came in and didn’t do that… so we asked them to play him hysterical and desperate rather than righteous and earnest.”
Eventually, an actor suited to the part was found – Sir Robert Chiltern will be played by Josh Moore.
Along with the difficulty of finding the right actors that fit the right parts, Bloomsbury Theatre itself provided another obstacle.
Alexis Rendel, a producer, said: “It was interesting to figure out how to give the illusion of a grand manor house and its frivolity on a student budget.
“Our set dresser has been really wonderful in taking very basic steel decking and creating a vision for the play that gives the illusion of luxury, almost exclusively with drapery and rugs.”
Rendel described the “opportunity” that London itself offered, allowing the production crew to rent period-accurate furniture from the globally renowned National Theatre.
Both cast and crew believe strongly in their work and ability to do Wilde’s play justice. “Our interpretation will be Wilde as people haven’t seen him before,” Britto claimed. “We’re adding things and adapting it – there’s dancing, there’s singing, there’s slapstick – people were silly and fun in the Victorian times, too.”
An Ideal Husband is running at Bloomsbury Theatre from 16th to 18th November 2023.
Tickets can be found here.
Featured image via Dylan Elliott.