The Oscar Wilde short story, adapted by Constance Cox, pokes fun at the aristocratic classes and the production at Chatsworth House Theatre last night was beautifully pitched and delivered by director Sylvia Jackson and her cast.
Lord Arthur Savile is a well-bred gentleman who is not overburdened with brains.
His engagement to the lovely Sybil Merton should lead to eternal happiness – but to check his suitability as a son-in-law Lady Julia Merton insists he has his palm read by Mr Podgers, a well-respected cheiromantist who predicts that Lord Arthur will commit a murder.
To prevent his future wife from having to bow her head in shame, Arthur feels duty-bound to get the dastardly deed over and done with before the marriage and sets about choosing his victim, and the method of their disposal.
He enlists the help of his faithful butler, Baines, and decides to poison his great aunt, Lady Clem.
It is then that Herr Winkelkopf professing to be President of the Royal Society of Anarchists appears offering help. Of course, things go drastically awry with the first attempt, so another victim has to be selected…and another.
The pacing of the play was first class. It would have been easy for some of the actors to overplay their parts but all maintained restrained discipline and that’s what brought Wilde’s rapier wit to the fore at the appropriate moments.
Lord Arthur is very much the part that sets the tone for the play and Andrew Dennis delivered this with a considerable energy. His naïve toff act was impeccable and the way he rubbed his thighs ahead of a kiss with Sybil was genius.
As the loyal servant Baines, Robert Curr was one of the outstanding performers of this production. He was self-assured, entirely convincing and never out of character for a second. An utter joy to watch.
The strange character of Herr Winkelkopf is not an easy one to direct or play. This is the one person who could be totally over hammed as a classic German comic but I think Simon Edmonds hit the spot with just the right amount of heel clicking and pidgin English.
Kate Stuart made the role of the overbearing and acerbic Lady Julia her own and delivered her bon mots with a deceptive casualness that gave them all the more power.
Len Wilding, who found himself playing a member of the clergy for the third time in a Chatsworth Players’ production, was charming as The Dean of Paddington and looked exactly as the part required.
Ed Kelly may this time have taken on a smaller role as Mr Podgers, but he certainly played it big and was suitably convincing as the nasty conman.
Lisa Cook, as Sybil, Pat Bell as Lady Clem, Caroline Cooper as Lady Windermere and Jenny Lowthrop as Nellie were all equally excellent in their roles and held the play together with poise and plausibility all round.
The stage manager was Mary Fry, props, Dorothy Bayes and Mel Fido-Dexter, lighting, Bryn and Michael Moorhouse, music, Robert Alan-Haven and costumes, Pat Bell and Molly Limpet’s Theatrical Emporium.
The play can be seen at Chatsworth House Theatre until Sunday October 20. There is an option to have a delicious high tea at Chatsworth on the 17th and 20th – although most tickets have already been sold.
For more details and to find out if there are still tickets available go to http://www.chatsworthplayers.com