'A play of modern life' by Oscar Wilde. Set amidst the grandeur of an English country home, Oscar Wilde's deliciously witty satire centres around the revelation of Mrs Arbuthnot's long-concealed secret and her struggle to survive in a society that values image above integrity - a brilliantly sharp comedy of the classes.
Featuring such classic witticisms as: "a well tied tie is the first serious step in life"; "the man that can dominate a London dinner table can dominate the world"; fox-hunting is "the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable"; "the soul is born old and grows young, that is the comedy of life"; "I adore simple pleasures, they are the last refuge of the complex"; and "men marry because they are tired, women because they are curious: both are disappointed."
Original London West End Production 1893 at Haymarket Theatre
Opened 19 April 1893, Closed 16 August 1893 at the Haymarket Theatre
The original cast featured Herbert Beerbohm Tree as 'Lord Illingworth', Mrs Bernard Beere as 'Mrs Arbuthnot', Fred Terry as 'Gerald Arbuthnot', Rose Leclercq as 'Lady Hunstanton', Mrs H B Tree as 'Mrs Allonby', Julia Neilson as 'Miss Hester Worsley', R G Le Thiere as 'Lady Caroline Pontefract', E Holman Clark as 'Sir John Pontefract', Blanche Horlock as 'Lady Stutfield', Charles Allan as 'Mr Kelvil MP', Henry Kemble as 'The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny' and Mr Lawford as 'Lord Alfred Rufford'. Directed by Herbert Beerbohm Tree.
1st London West End Revival 1907 at His Majesty's Theatre
Opened 22 May 1907, Closed 4 July 1907 at His Majesty's Theatre (now Her Majesty's Theatre)
The original cast featured Herbert Beerbohm Tree as 'Lord Illingworth', Marion Terry as 'Mrs Arbuthnot', Charles Quartermaine as 'Gerald Arbuthnot', Mrs Charles Calvert as 'Lady Hunstanton', Ellis Jeffreys as 'Mrs Allonby', Viola Tree as 'Miss Hester Worsley', Kate Bishop as 'Lady Caroline Pontefract', J Fisher White as 'Sir John Pontefract', Kate Cutler as 'Lady Stutfield', Charles Allan as 'Mr Kelvil MP', Edmund Maurice as 'The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny' and Langhorne Burton as 'Lord Alfred Rufford'. Directed by Herbert Beerbohm Tree.
London West End Revival (two performances only) 1915 at the Kingsway Theatre
Opened 13 May 1915, Closed 14 May 1915 at the Kingsway Theatre
The cast featured Lawrence Hanray as 'Lord Illingworth', Madge McIntosh as 'Mrs Arbuthnot', Percy Marmont as 'Gerald Arbuthnot', Edith Barwell as 'Lady Hunstanton', Estelle Winwood as 'Mrs Allonby', Edith Smith as 'Miss Hester Worsley', Nina Henderson as 'Lady Caroline Pontefract', William Armstrong as 'Sir John Pontefract', Kathleen Johnston as 'Lady Stutfield', Harvey Adams as 'Mr Kelvil MP', William Dexter as 'The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny' and Frederick Cooper as 'Lord Alfred Rufford'. Directed by Madge McIntosh.
Two performances only - presented as part of a short season of plays by the Liverpool Repertory Theatre Company and produced by the Liverpool Commonwealth Company.
London Revival 1930 at the Regent Theatre
Opened 11 October 1930, Closed 17 October 1930 at the Regent Theatre (now demolished)
The cast featured Tod Slaughter as 'Lord Illingworth', Winifred Griffiths as 'Mrs Arbuthnot', Lawrence Rushworth as 'Gerald Arbuthnot', Dorothy Dewhurst as 'Lady Hunstanton', Christina Horniman as 'Mrs Allonby', Mary Mousley as 'Miss Hester Worsley', Evelyn Gardiner as 'Lady Caroline Pontefract', Horace Custins as 'Sir John Pontefract', Pearl Colquhoun as 'Lady Stutfield', William Dewhurst as 'Mr Kelvil MP' and Ellis J Preston as 'The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny'. Directed by Martin Sabine.
Presented by the London Repertory Company for 12 performances only. The Regent Theatre was located in the Euston Road, opposite St Pancras Railway Station.
2nd London West End Revival 1953 at the Savoy Theatre
Opened 12 February 1953, Closed 18 July 1953 at the Savoy Theatre
The original cast featured Clive Brook as 'Lord Illingworth', Miss Nora Swinburne as 'Mrs Arbuthnot', Peter Barkworth as 'Gerald Arbuthnot', Athene Seyler as 'Lady Hunstanton', Isabel Jeans as 'Mrs Allonby', Frances Hyland as 'Miss Hester Worsley', Jean Cadell as 'Lady Caroline Pontefract', William Mervyn as 'Sir John Pontefract', Joan Benham as 'Lady Stutfield', Philip Burton as 'Mr Kelvil MP', Aubrey Mather as 'The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny' and Charles Perry as 'Lord Alfred Rufford'. Directed by Michael Benthall with designs by Mr Loudon Sainthill.
3rd London West End Revival 1967 at the Vaudeville Theatre
Opened 28 November 1967, Closed 13 January 1968 at the Vaudeville Theatre
The original cast featured Tony Britton as 'Lord Illingworth', Phyllis Calvert as 'Mrs Arbuthnot', Michael Pennington as 'Gerald Arbuthnot', Agnes Lauchlan as 'Lady Hunstanton', Pauline James as 'Mrs Allonby', Portland Mason as 'Miss Hester Worsley', Billie Hill as 'Lady Caroline Pontefract', George Ddesmond as 'Sir John Pontefract', Diane Hart as 'Lady Stutfield', James Hayter as 'The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny', Robert Ddean as 'Mr Kelvil MP' and Dixon Adams as 'Lord Alfred Rufford'. Directed by Malcolm Farquhar with sets by Jessica Gwynne and costumes by William J Winn.
4th London West End Revival 1991 at the Barbican Theatre and Haymarket Theatre
Previewed Thursday 26 September 1991, Opened Wednesday 2 October 1991, Closed 30 November 1991 (in repertory) at the Barbican Theatre
Transferred 24 June 1992, Opened 13 July 1992, Closed 7 November 1992 at the Haymarket Theatre
The original Barbican Theatre cast John Carlisle as 'Lord Illingworth', Carol Royle as 'Mrs Arbuthnot', Andrew Havill as 'Gerald Arbuthnot', Barbara Leigh-Hunt as 'Lady Hunstanton', Nichola McAuliffe as 'Mrs Allonby', Julie Saunders as 'Miss Hester Worsley', Cherry Morris as 'Lady Caroline Pontefract', Leonard Kavanagh as 'Sir John Pontefract', Mary Chater as 'Lady Stutfield', David Killick as 'M Kelvil MP', John Bott as 'The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny' and Marston Bloom as 'Lord Alfred Rufford'.
The original West End cast at the Haymarket Theatre featured John Carlisle as 'Lord Illingworth', Carol Royle as 'Mrs Arbuthnot', Andrew Havill as 'Gerald Arbuthnot', Barbara Leigh-Hunt as 'Lady Hunstanton', Jennifer Hilary as 'Mrs Allonby', Jaye Griffiths as 'Miss Hester Worsley', Faith Brook as 'Lady Caroline Pontefract', Leonard Kavanagh as 'Sir John Pontefract', Mary Chater as 'Lady Stutfield', Patrick Hannaway as 'Mr Kelvil MP', John Gill as 'The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny' and Simon Day as 'Lord Alfred Rufford'. During the run Gwen Watford took over as 'Lady Hunstanton', James Tucker took over as 'Lord Alfred Rufford', Paulette Ivory took over as 'Miss Hester Worsley' and Nada Sharp took over as 'Lady Stutfield'.
Directed and designed by Philip Prowse with lighting by Gerry Jenkinson.
"Philip Prowse's production, like many by him, looks gorgeous and moves with a sedate tread. He follows his usual practice of designing the sets himself, this time backing the stage with a giant pastiche of a Claude landscape and filling it with gilded urns, walls and even leaves. When the action shifts indoors, a vast, psychedelic ottoman appears, emphasising a pretty obvious point. This is a rich, artificial world full of spoiled, glazed people: an amiable Barbara Leigh-Hunt representing its more acceptable face... They saunter, emit stilted yelps, and sometimes manage to be funny. The wit is exhaustive, but also increasingly exhausted and exhausting... Still, Carol Royle manages to bring dignity to Illingworth's ex-mistress, and John Carlisle, sporting a supercilious smirk, is every inch the blase roue and, as such, historically suggestive." The Times
"In matters of grave importance, said Wilde's Gwendolen, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing. In A Woman Of No Importance too, it would seem, since Philip Prowse's new production at the Barbican is swathed in style. But not all Mr Prowse's art can disguise the fact that Wilde shamelessly exploits the double-standards he seeks to expose. Wilde puts his chief point into the mouth of an American puritan: that English society has one law for men and another for women. Proof positive comes when the rakish Lord Illingworth is confronted at Lady Hunstanton's rural rout by Mrs Arbuthnot, the woman he ruined 20 years ago... Philip Prowse's production, handsomely set on manicured lawns and in picture-framed drawing-rooms, does everything possible to conceal the joins... John Carlisle's Lord Illingworth is not only an immensely subtle portrait of a sleekly dangerous lounge-lizard, he also times his laughs precisely to the flick of his lighter. Nichola McAuliffe's excellent Mrs Allonby." The Guardian
"Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance is a mixture of comedy, melodrama and - in the final act - a heavy dose of Ibsen. The central male character, Lord Illingworth, is a thoroughly unpleasant man who drips aphorisms, most of which are no longer funny and few of which can have seemed all that brilliant even when the play was written in the early 1890s. The theme, such as it is, might charitably be described as early feminist, in that there is a plea that women should be better treated, though even that element could simply be seen as part of the melodrama. In short, the piece is a bit of a mess. It takes a troupe of great talent to put it together as a plausible production one hundred years later, yet that is what the Royal Shakespeare Company has done. The RSC may have taken some liberties. In particular, Philip Prowse's direction concentrates on the women - not just the woman who is wronged, but the women who, as even Lord Illingworth admits, make up society... The Ibsen influence comes in towards the end when Carol Royle as Mrs Arbuthnot, the wronged mother of Illingworth's son, declines all offers of a reconciliation." The Financial Times
A Woman of No Importance in London at the Barbican Theatre previewed from 26 September 1991, opened on 2 October 1991 and closed on 30 November 1991, transferred to the Haymarket Theatre from 24 June 1992 and closed on 7 November 1992
5th London West End Revival 2003 at the Haymarket Theatre
Previewed 10 September 2003, Opened 16 September 2003, Closed 31 January 2004 at the Haymarket Theatre
The original cast featured Rupert Graves as 'Lord Illingworth', Samantha Bond as 'Mrs Arbuthnot', Julian Ovenden as 'Gerald Arbuthnot', Prunella Scales as 'Lady Hunstanton', Joanne Pearce as 'Mrs Allonby', Rachel Stirling as 'Miss Hester Worsley', Caroline Blakiston as 'Lady Caroline Pontefract', Ralph Nossek as 'Sir John Pontefract', Elizabeth Garvie as 'Lady Stutfield', John Normington as 'Mr Kelvil MP', Peter Cellier as 'The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny', Jasper Jacob as 'Lord Alfred Rufford' with Richard Teverson, Richard Syms and Sharon Scogings. Directed by Adrian Noble with designs by Peter McKintosh, lighting by Rick Fisher and sound by Paul Arditti.
"Until Samantha Bond comes on, the show is a slow motion bore. Whenever she appears, magnificently audible, utterly tragic and playing her heart out as the Wronged Woman with a double capital W, things look up. There's some minor excitement when Gerald learns the truth about his real father and throws a wobbly. But behind the social whirl of a country-house party, this family saga rolls on and on, the plot creaking like floorboards in a haunted vicarage. Aside from Ms Bond's contribution, there's a smashing performance from Rachael Stirling (Diana Rigg's daughter) as the modern-minded American girl with whom the randy lord tries it on. Rupert Graves, going a bit grey about the gills, brilliantly plays super-witty Lord Illingworth like a leering, self-important spiv straight out of Tony Blair's House of Lords... Director Adrian Noble seems as exhausted as the rest of us by the play's epic quantities of witty banter which he orchestrates with nil conviction." The Daily Express
"This is Oscar Wilde's most unsuccessful but most promising play, and Adrian Noble's production seems unsure how to get the balance right... Unusually for Noble, the production lacks pace until, oddly enough, the interminable last act; where, for all the tears and blood and thunder, the feelings begin to sound genuine... Here, the relationship between Illingworth, Mrs Arbuthnot and their son explodes into almost full reality. Until then, even though the play is cast to the hilt, it trundles rather than whips along, with the characters arranged picturesquely, like statuary." The Sunday Times
"Samantha Bond gives a powerful performance as the wronged Mrs Arbuthnot, but even she can't stop the serious part of the action seeming a load of old rope. Rupert Graves as immoral Lord Illingworth and Joanne Pearce as cynical Mrs Allonby deliver their witty lines with aplomb, but all too often the wit itself seems mechanical or stale. Fortunately, Wilde had another vein of comedy, which was closer to farce, and which provides much the most amusing moments of the evening... There are handsome dresses, and polished acting virtually throughout. Rachael Sterling looks very fetching as a young American heiress. The period flavour has its charm. But you don't come away feeling you want to see another revival of the play in a hurry." The Sunday Telegraph
"Oscar Wilde's A Woman Of No Importance is a play of little significance. To begin with, it's all delicious witticisms and clinking teacups. Then it plunges into melodrama, stabbing cackhandedly at the hypocrisy of Victorian society in which there is one law for immoral men and another for the poor women left, literally, holding the baby... The performances in Adrian Noble's flabby revival are somewhat uneven. Rupert Graves is a splendid cad, glitteringly heartless, while Caroline Blakiston and Joanne Pearce are truly Wilde women, ensuring every sentence stings like a nettle. Poor old Prunella Scales is too absentminded as Lady Hunstanton, and Samantha Bond, who blazes bitterly in black velvet, is marvellous as Mrs Arbuthnot, but her part belongs in a different play - Ibsen perhaps." The Mail on Sunday
A Woman of No Importance in London at the Haymarket Theatre previewed from 10 September 2003, opened on 16 September 2003 and closed on 31 January 2004.
6th London West End Revival 2017 at the Vaudeville Theatre
Previewed 6 October 2017, Opened 16 October 2017, Closed 30 December 2017 at the Vaudeville Theatre
The cast features Dominic Rowan as 'Lord Illingworth', Eve Best as 'Mrs Arbuthnot', Harry Lister Smith as 'Gerald Arbuthnot', Anne Reid as 'Lady Hunstanton', Emma Fielding as 'Mrs Allonby', Crystal Clarke as Miss Hester Worsley', Eleanor Bron as 'Lady Caroline Pontefract', Sam Cox as 'Sir John Pontefract', Phoebe Fildes as 'Lady Stutfield', Paul Rider as 'Mr Kelvil MP', William Gaunt as 'The Ven. Archdeacon Daubeny', William Mannering as 'Lord Alfred Rufford', Meg Coombs as 'Alice', Will Kelly as 'Farquar' and Sioned Jones. Directed by Dominic Dromgoole with designs by Jonathan Fensom, lighting by Ben Ormerod and music by Jason Carr.
This revival is presented as the first play in Dominic Dromgoole's Classic Spring Theatre Company's Oscar Wilde Season.
When this production opened here in October 2017, Dominic Maxwell in the Times noted that "it boasts a stunning lead performance from Eve Best, aceing the diction and decorum even as she flings her heart into the role of Rachel, the mother reunited with the proudly amoral Lord Illingworth (a cannily cold Dominic Rowan)... Anne Reid not only triumphs with her effortless wit, wisdom and waspishness as Lady Hunstanton, but also with some vintage cabaret routines in front of the curtain between acts. And, in the third act, the best drunk acting you will ever see." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail praised it as being: "What a treat... Under the brittle bonmots director Dominic Dromgoole finds a touching vulnerability. This show subtly tickles up Oscar for the 21st century, giving us an idea not so much of women’s nascent political rights as the emergence of a more democratic approach to love." Paul Taylor in the i newspaper explained that, "by playing the central story for its enduring tragic truth and muting some of the more exclamatory attitudinising, Dominic Dromgoole brings an Ibsenite bite to the proceedings. And the ping-pong of Wildean bon mots is played with real force of personality by a cast of de luxe performers... Anne Reid is sublimely funny as the vague, scatterbrained Lady Hunstanton - a joy warbling the entr'acte songs which are a novel and attractive feature of this production." Ian Shuttleworth in the Financial Times commented that "an immense amount of thought, care and skill has gone into every aspect of the production, and the result is a thing of beauty but not of profundity... what Dominic Dromgoole’s production does do, it does superlatively... profundity is hardly necessary amid such exceptional craftsmanship." Michael Billington in the Guardian highlighted that "the one big surprise about Dominic Dromgoole's production is that it perks up no end the more the play dwindles into absurdity... It will never be anyone’s favourite Oscar Wilde play but at least it establishes the dramatist’s feminist credentials and, in Dromgoole’s revival, takes the mothballs out of the melodrama." Fiona Mountford in the London Evening Standard said that "they’re not so much characters as one-liners on two legs and the whole thing reminded me exactly why I increasingly find Wilde so weary-making. The action gets slower and slower and flatter and flatter, until it seems that it might just grind to a complete halt – and then Mrs Arbuthnot (Eve Best) makes her entrance and the situation at last starts to get a bit more interesting... American tourists will lap this up, but as for everybody else, I have my doubts." Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph thought that "the play does often resemble a forced marriage of surface-skimming satire and deep emotional havoc... Dominic Dromgoole and designer Jonathan Fensom don't make things easy for their cast of 16 by placing them in a cluttered, confining, chocolate-box set that requires them to manoeuvre very precisely to avoid bumping into the other confectionery."
Eve Best's West End theatre credits include the role of 'Olivia Brown' in Trevor Nunn's revival of Terence Rattigan's comedy Love in Idleness at the Menier Chocolate Factory and transfer to the Apollo Theatre in 2017; the title role in Jamie Lloyd's revival of John Webster's Jacobean tragedy The Duchess of Malfi at the Old Vic Theatre in 2012; the role of 'Josie Hogan' in Howard Davies' revival of Eugene O'Neill's play A Moon for the Misbegotten at the Old Vic Theatre in 2006; and the title role in Richard Eyre's revival of Henrik Ibsen's play Hedda Gabler at the Almeida Theatre and transfer to the Duke of York's Theatre in 2005.
Anne Reid's London theatre credits include the role of 'Juliana Tesman' in Anna Mackmin's revival of Henrik Ibsen's play Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic Theatre in 2012; and the role of 'Mrs Elliot' in Peter Gill's revival of John Osborne and Anthony Creighton's play Epitaph for George Dillon at the Harold Pinter Theatre in 2006.
Eleanor Bron's London theatre credits include the role of 'Madre de Rosa' in Tom Cairns' World Premiere production of Samuel Adamson's play All About My Mother, based on the film by Pedro Almodovar, at the Old Vic Theatre in 2007.
Dominic Dromgoole is the former Artistic Director of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. His West End directing credits include revivals of Anton Checkov's Three Sisters, for the Oxford Stage Company, at the Trafalgar Studios in 1999; Frank McGuinness's Someone Who'll Watch Over Me, starring Jonny Lee Miller, Aidan Gillen and David Threlfall, at the Ambassadors Theatre in 2005; and Roy MacGregor's new play Snake In The Grass, starring John Normington and Kevin Whateley, at the Old Vic Theatre in 1997.
"Can the Vaudeville Theatre really sustain a whole season of Oscar Wilde, or will it sink under an excess of melodrama and epigrams? Dominic Dromgoole's production of this rarely performed play digs deep to reveal a compassion for women that gradually prevails over the endless exchange of quips. All too topically, Wilde is critical of a hypocritical society in which women are condemned for their so-called sins, while the men get off scot-free. At least the women get the best parts. Eve Best is outstanding as Mrs Arbuthnot, the "woman with a past". She faces up to her former lover, who threatens to take their son away, with fury and passion, and deftly rises above the occasional corny line. Anne Reid is a hoot as Lady Hunstanton, whose conversation becomes increasingly surreal as she sinks gradually into her cups, and Emma Fielding is divinely decadent as Mrs Allonby. The parlour songs are too numerous, but the season is launched with a flourish."
"Oscar Wilde embellishes the melodrama with a wealth of quips and aphorisms, some of which seem better suited to a dictionary of quotations than dialogue. But in Dominic Dromgoole's elegant, full-blooded, production they are delivered with aplomb by Dominic Rowan as Illingworth and Anne Reid and Eleanor Bron as two worldly grande dames. Eve Best as Rachel, Harry Lister Smith as Gerald and Crystal Clarke as the American heiress whom he loves ably fulfil the harder task of conveying Wilde's attempts at sincerity. Best, in particular, displays both steel and fire as a woman who refuses to be wronged twice. This is precisely the sort of production that should be playing at the National Theatre. But, under the disastrous directorship of Rufus Norris, classics have been all but banished from the stage." The Sunday Express
"Emma Fielding and Eleanor Bron, as society battleships, have a great time firing off bon mots, and William Gaunt honks like a goose as the senile archdeacon, as servants come and go on a countryhouse set. The real yeast in the loaf is the great Anne Reid as Lady Hunstanton. She’s a riot of knowing comments, facial tics and blissful ignorance... Dominic Rowan plays the cadin-chief politician Lord Illingworth, a cold, suave snogger with some topically unacceptable attitudes towards women. When he employs young Gerald as his secretary, he discovers the boy is his son by a woman he abandoned 20 years before. Gerald’s mother is superbly played with grieving intensity by Eve Best, in a tragic role that belongs in a much better play... Director Dominic Dromgoole gives this creaking, early Wilde play a good spray of WD40 without altering it’s late-Victorian look." The Mail on Sunday
A Woman of No Importance in London at the Vaudeville Theatre previewed from 6 October 2017, opened on 16 October 2017 and closed on 30 December 2017