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REVIEW: An Ideal Husband, Hutt Repertory Theatre, Lower Hutt. On until 14 July 2011

An Ideal Husband
Written 1895 By Oscar Wilde
Performed by Hutt Repertory Theatre (http://www.huttrep.co.nz)
Directed by Ewen Coleman
Venue: Theatre 108, 108 Oxford Tce, Epuni, Lower Hutt
On until: 14 July 2012
Review date: 05 July 2012
Reviewed by David Murray for Review Community Theatre

The challenge for me tonight was to travel out by train to Epuni Lower Hutt, see Hutt Repertory Theatre's production of An Ideal Husband, get back to The City – also by train, and write this review.

Hutt Repertory's “Theatre 108” venue is very handy to the Epuni railway station – in fact visible from the platform, and this made it easy for me to find the place. Because it is somewhat tucked away behind a set of shops I found it helpful that I had visited their website ahead of time and had seen a photo of what their Theatre 108 looked like.

With Ewen Coleman as the director, given that he was the adjudicator for last year's full length play competition I was expecting reasonably good production values, altho' this is the first play by Hutt Repertory that I have seen and the first time I've seen a performance of this play. For me the experience was mixed. It was an entertaining and enjoyable performance, but had what were to me obvious flaws. On balance I enjoyed it and was glad to have gone along to see it.

The foyer is somewhat small for an 80 seat auditorium, but that wasn't a big deal due to the fact that the theatre is in a traditional configuration with a procenium arch and curtain and the door was open and we could freely move through into the theatre without seeing any pre-show activity on stage. The auditorium seating, however, was cramped and uncomfortable and the interval was a very welcome opportunity to stand. I found it strange that they were pre-allocating seats!

The script is a very clever well constructed play full of witty Oscar Wilde quotes. Some of those quotable quotes caused sharp intakes of breath from several members of the audience due to the now obviously sexist views of people in the late Victorian Era when this play was written – acceptable at the time, but now very dated and no longer acceptable in a modern play unless wanting to portray someone as being sexist.

When the curtain was lifted we saw the majority of the reasonably large cast onstage for act 1 in what was a formal party in a ballroom with all the characters formally dressed. The costume designer is to be commended for the beautiful and detailed costumes provided for both the female and the male actors – in my view perfect for each character and well suited to the upper class Victorian society that the play portrays.

There was no change to the performance lighting from the time I entered the theatre until the time the lights faded out just before the curtain call at the end of the play. Modern plays tend to require sophisticated lighting and sound, but this play was written at a time when theatre lighting was very primative. The lack of variety in the lighting was appropriate to the era the play was written in. The approach the lighting designer took made good use of the available resources and was very even – well supporting the performance (OK I do lighting for other theatre companies so this is something I was interested to see).

The set design was very flexible, making possible quick structural scene changes – putting doors in different places by the addition of a few panels or by moving a couple of curtains, but the wall decoration seemed somewhat tatty.

The dialogue felt somewhat stilted in a number of parts and one actor had a tendency to look at the audience during the course of the performance, but all cast members were easy to hear and understand what they were saying except in the opening scene where there was a significant amount of background chatter – appropriate to the scene being portrayed but rather too loud for clear understanding of the dialog being spoken. I have a “thing” about dialogue between characters needing to be conversational in feel and tone, and I was left wondering if the stiltedness of much of the dialogue was a deliberate choice.

All 6 principle actors – Stephen Falloon, Dee Guja, Harriet Prebble, Lee Dowsett, Kerry Moore and Lottie Butcher gave enthusiastic performances of their characters and the plot twists in the final act were delightful.

Would I recommend seeing the play? Definitely yes – even if at least to see one of Oscar Wilde's rarely staged plays! Despite my criticisms I did very much enjoy watching this production and now that I know where Hutt Repertory is located I'll be looking to see more of their work.

David Murray
2012-07-05

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