Bruce Arnold

Critic of Public Affairs, writing about art, theatre, music and politics

Witty tale of corruption sparkles with some flashes of brilliance

IN Oscar Wilde there are always two plays. One is the play of aphorism -- where we jump from one glittering joke to another, as though a frisbee is being thrown with deadly accuracy from one actor to another -- and the drama is held up by the richly earned laughter of the audience. The other play is the story: who is loving, betraying, helping or threatening another character. 'An Ideal Husband' is the quintessence of this.

It is Wilde's best-constructed, most convincing drama about political power and corruption, the hero notable for being himself corrupt and wanting to cover this up. The story is relevant today, though not in its serious prejudice against women. We are swept into the most sumptuous of settings -- the life surrounding Sir Robert Chiltern being one of threatened wealth, that of his friend, Lord Goring, one of perceptive indolence. They circle each other in a complex and potentially tragic drama, provoked by the arrival in London, from sinful Vienna, of the freebooter, the wicked Mrs Cheveley. Read More...