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in Northampton since 1932

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A Woman of No Importance
by Oscar Wilde

A scene from A Woman of No Importance

Cast & Crew

Lord Illingworth Phil Purkiss
Sir John Pontefract Barry Dougall
Lord Alfred Rufford Richard Jordan
Mr Kelvil MP Kevin Pinks
Archdeacon Daubeny Tomny Janney
Gerald Arbuthnot Fred Parker
Farquhar (butler) David Dunkley
Francis (footman) Bob Kendall
Lady Hunstanton Lynne O'Sullivan
Lady Caroline Pontefract Elizabeth Allan
Lady Stutfield Denise Swann
Mrs Allonby Kate Billingham
Miss Hester Worsley Emily Bale
Alice (maid) Suzanne Richards
Mrs Arbothnot Bernadette Wood

Brian Harrap
Stage Management Claire Brittain
assisted by members of the cast

Continuity Sue Hornsby-Messenger
Light & Sound Terry White, Robert Vaughan
Costumes The Works
Additional Costumes Pam Mann
Publicity & Photography Ian Clarke
Programme Design Martin Borley-Cox

Front of House Masque Theatre members



Photo by Ian Clarke

Production No. 380

More images from A Woman of No Importance >

by the director, Brian Harrap

Written in 1892 and first performed at the Haymarket in London in April 1893,  A Woman of No Importance was commissioned by Beerbohm Tree to follow the hugely successful Lady Windermere’s Fan.

In this dark and light comedy of secrets, lies and social conformity, Wildean wit sparkles and coruscates, smuggling in a raft of burningly-angry social commentary. In the words of the play itself, “the only truth is passion, intellect is just a plaything” and this expresses itself through three love stories: the new and flowering, the one that cannot be expressed and the old, painful, unrequited.

All the familiar targets are there: social and gender inequality, political ineptitude, the stultifying effect of middle and upper-class social mores and the pain and confusion engendered by an inability of those of a certain standing to deal openly and directly with each other. But it is laced with a large amount of affection for those who have to live within the strictures, especially the women; men behaving badly are well-met indeed, but women who dare to do the same are pariahs.

Played out on the terrace, drawing room and salon of a large country house of the 1890s, we find a young American ingénue (though a witty one) introduced to the rigours of polite society and the language sparkles. Later the drama emerges: 20 years before, Mrs Arbuthnot had had a son by Lord Illingworth, who refused to marry her. That son, Gerald, is now offered a post as secretary in the Diplomatic Services by the self-same Lord; his mother cannot bear him to accept, but cannot tell him why, and the drama darkens.

Less often performed than others of Wilde’s plays of the period, A Woman nonetheless glitters with all the linguistic and literary confabulations, and has all the dramatic punch we might expect of him. 

In the cast, we welcome Phil Purkiss, a long time member of Moulton, in his first major role for Masque.  Liz Allan who steps out of the box office and on to the stage and Fred Parker, who is new to the amateur stage. Bernie Woods, most recently seen in Great Expectations, and shortly at the Playhouse in Vincent, plays the Woman herself, while Kate Billingham, last seen hilariously in Fur Coat and No Knickers plays the mysterious, witty, Mrs Allonby.

It is good to have Lynne O’Sullivan, who has played with Duston and the Playhouse, and Denise Swann, a long-time member who we don’t see enough of on stage, on board, ably supported by Kevin Pinks, Barry Dougal, Tony Janney, Martin Williams, Suzanne Richards, Rob Kendall and David Dunkley.

24 - 28 May 2011 at 7.30pm
Moulton Theatre, Cross Street, Moulton

by Edward Toone

I feel that I should be sitting comfortably, perhaps artfully draped over a chaise lounge, whilst I orate this review to my tongue-tied footman, but alas a modern chair and laptop will have to suffice.

And where are my manners? I haven’t even introduced the show. A Woman of No Importance by Oscar Wilde is not one for quickness of pace and nor does it intend to be. Brian Harrap’s direction features a relaxed social occasion concealing dark secrets, shocking for the society of the time.

Lady Hunstanton, absent-mindedly well versed by Lynne O’Sullivan, holds a gathering of the indolent upper class. Her guests: Lady Stutfield, a social butterfly ably portrayed by Denise Swann; Sir John Pontefract, a put upon husband with a wandering eye, for which Barry Dougall was well suited; his wife Lady Caroline Pontefract, played fiercely and loyally by Elizabeth Allan;  Mrs Allonby, exhibited by the vision in Pink, Kate Billingham, who was immorally mischievous; Lord Alfred Rufford, a blink and you’d miss it cameo from Richard Jordan, as always suitably debonair with moustache; Mr Kelvil MP, respectably represented by Kevin Pinks; The Venerable Archdeacon Daubeny, for whom Tony Janney paid due deference.

As well as those who were found ‘waiting’ and not wanting: Farquhar (David Dunkley) Francis (Rob Kendall) and Alice (Suzanne Richards) their stature spoke volumes.

The list is not exhaustive. The plot intertwines the lives of the lovers bringing the suave Lord Illingworth, played ruthlessly by Phil Purkiss and the young and impressionable Gerald Arbuthnot, performed by the dignified Fred Parker, together as employer and employee.

This golden opportunity for the young man of low standing is scuppered by the introduction of love past and present. Miss Hester Worsley a young American visitor, puritanically depicted by Emily Bale with another inspired wardrobe, catches the eye of Gerald who professes love for her.

The Woman of No Importance, Mrs Arbuthnot, passionately portrayed by Bernie Wood, arrives late to the party and, like a glove about the face, endangers Gerald’s future employment. Lord Illingworth, a roguish cad had ‘met’ with Mrs Arbuthnot in the past, producing Gerald as their son, and yet refused to marry her.

Spring forward 20 years and this sorry tale spills forth, almost ruining the Arbuthnot’s standing if not for the love between Hester and Gerald.

Page last updated: 12/08/2011 Masque Theatre © 2011