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Lord Saville's Crime is to have siphoned Wildw's wit and sparkle



Review by David Munro

ONE feels that had Oscar Wilde felt the plot of his short story, Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime, was suitable for the stage he would have written it as a play.

Trevor Baxter takes the flimsy plot and turns it into a cod Victorian melodrama which Christopher Luscombe stages in the same vein with a brightly coloured toy theatre setting by Alexander McPherson.

The plot revolves around a society fortune teller, Mr Septimus Podgers (Russ Abbot), who foretells that Lord Arthur will shortly commit a murder and sends him off to kill one of his relations lest Lord A should fulfil the prophecy with his fiancée.

After one or two false starts, he succeeds and kills guess who? That’s right. You have guessed it and if you haven’t, you may get more pleasure out of the evening than I did.

If one is to 'do' melodrama, I feel it should be done straight, as it at the much missed old Players Theatre, not in a sneering , tongue-in-cheek manner with broad asides to the audience, improbable posing and poetic front cloth musings by the hero (taken rather incongruously from the 'Ballad of Reading Gaol') to cover scene changes and lapses of time with cod Victorian music on the piano and violin.

One can perhaps get away with this type of staging if the actors play their parts straight and with sincerity which (apart from Russ Abbot) is not the case in this production.

Mr Abbot makes an amusing study of the venal, fraudulent fortune teller extorting thousands of pounds from Lord Arthur for discussing his problem with him and brushing aside the fact that Lord A. can expose him as a fraud as inconsequential.

A lovely performance but totally out of character with the over dramatic style of the production.

That is not to say that Bill Kenwright has not assembled a good cast for the production - he has.

Sara Crowe, as Sybil Merton, the fiancée; Susan Penhaligon, as her aunt Lady Windermere (sans fan); Royce Mills, as an absent-minded clock-loving dean of Chichester, and Barry Howard, as a demented German bomb expert, all do their acts competently, if somewhat over the top, and yet this is where the production fails for me.

They are individual performances and do not coalesce into a whole. They might just as well be Pollock’s universal cast of characters sold with the theatre for any production the purchaser may wish to stage.

The whole production seems packaged for commercial success rather than artistic integrity – to please the groundlings and, judging by last night’s audience, it has succeeded in its object.

Therefore, perhaps it is not fair of me to take it seriously except that I believe that if you are going to do something you should do it with sincerity and that particular commodity is noticeably lacking from this package.

I have not mentioned John Sackville’s Lord Arthur about whose performance I can only say that he clearly agrees with his director that an overplayed inarticulate performance is in keeping with the author's intention to re-create melodrama in a risible manner.

I hope that when I see him in another production I will be able to assess whether or not he is a good actor: as of last night, the jury is still out.

Whether with a different approach there is an amusing play in Wilde’s short story I am not in a position to judge.

On last night's showing all his wit and sparkle have been siphoned off and what should have been an effervescent evening, was sadly, very flat.

Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime by Oscar Wilde, dramatised by Trevor Baxter.
Music by Malcolm McKee.
Directed by Christopher Luscombe.
Choreographer – Jenny Arnold.
Designer – Alexander McPherson.
Lighting – Nick Richings.
Sound – Rob Langley.
CAST: Russ Abbot; John Sackville; Royce Mills; Sara Crowe; Richard Gee; Susan Penhaligon; Gay Lambert; Barry Howard; Tom Jude; Elisa Boyd.
Presented by Bill Kenwright.
Richmond Theatre, The Green, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 IQJ.
Mon, April 18 – Sat, April 23, 2005.
Evenings 7.45pm
Matinees Wed. & Sat. 2.30pm
Box Office: 0870 060 6657.

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