A pre-show soundtrack featuring “Barbie Girl” and “Ice Ice Baby” immediately acquaints the audience at La Boite Theatre’s re-imagining of Oscar Wilde’s social satire An Ideal Husband.
It is set around 1996, in the lead up to the federal election. Arthur “Artie” Whig (Will Carseldine) has been invited to the national capital for his father to announce that he is being cut off financially. The only way for him to continue living entirely at his own pleasure is to find a job and get married. Enter Artie’s friend Mabel Lloyd (Billy Fogarty) who, in response to her own matrimonial anxiety, suggests they should be married … given that her ideal husband is a homosexual she can trust.
When the two socialites attend an endangered lizard fundraiser, political dealings are revealed. We are introduced to Artie’s friend, the Labor Member for Brisbane and Minister for the Environment Robyn Shi (Hsiao-Ling Tang) and her passionately-idealistic intern, turned adviser, turned romantic partner Gertrude Chiltern (Emily Burton).
Meanwhile journalist Douglas Harris (an endearing Kevin Spink) is on the hunt to validate a story tip-off and become more acquainted with Whig. Matters are complicated by the appearance of the extravagant and unpredictable former Prime Minister’s widow Dame Tara Markby (Christen O’Leary) and her recently returned relation Lucian Chevely (Patrick Jhanur), Whig’s former lover.
Playwright Lewis Treston’s tale of blackmail and corruption within the “complex business of politics”, is brilliant. That is not only through its queer makeover of the original text’s relationships, but because of its dip into contemplation of bigger, still relevant political ideas. It is a joy to watch the work’s performers enliven the script and interact with each other’s characters through Neridah Waters’ choreography and Nigel Poulton’s movement, intimacy and fight direction.
The strong cast more than delivers on expectations. Indeed, there are no weakness in their pitch-perfect performances, which carry along the story’s love triangle and political scandal plot lines. Under Bridget Boyle’s snappy direction, scenes almost overlap in terms of exits and entrances. The little moments, the looks and reactions, especially from Carseldine in response to the chaos of Act Two’s absurdity, give An Ideal Husband an extra lift.
Jason Glenwright’s lighting design and Guy Webster’s compositions and sound design work together to fill the setting with an engaging vibrancy. The creative set design even allows for the creation of a House of Representatives, from which the audience can watch the work’s political debates. On screen additions set the context of, for example, flying with Ansett, and allow for an appreciated (and very funny) epilogue of what has happened to the characters after their worlds have exploded.
Oscar Wilde’s sometimes savage witticisms flow naturally from everyone’s mouths, which gives a buoyancy to the play’s rhythm. This energetic comedy of manners and morals is a wickedly funny show, so much so that some lines are unfortunately lost under the resultant waves of opening night audience reaction. La Boite Theatre Company’s An Ideal Husband is on at the Roundhouse Theatre, Kelvin Grove, Brisbane until 6th August, 2022.