Sunday’s matinee (Feb 3) was followed by a Talkback with director Paul Hardy and the cast. Oh, and the performance was SOLD OUT. Really sold out – as in: not a single seat was empty. Meetup group Thumbs Up Theatre brought a huge crowd, and judging from their comments on the Thumbs Up page, they really enjoyed it. http://www.thumbsuptheatre.com/events/63549302/?eventId=63549302&action=detail
Often at Talkbacks, people are reluctant to be the first to comment or ask a question, so even though I’d guess about 90% of the audience stayed in their seats and didn’t seem shy, after Paul had the actors introduce themselves, Ramona Baillie, Executive Producer of A Woman of No Importance, started the ball rolling by asking Paul why he decided to set the play in the 1980’s instead of the 1890’s which is when Oscar Wilde wrote it.
Paul responded that he wanted to contemporize the piece, and initially considered setting it in the 1950’s, but discovered that had already been done. So he went for the 1980’s instead – a time when the gap between rich and poor was very wide in Britain.
Then the questions rolled in from audience members. Here’s a sampling, as fast as I could scribble:
Q: Did you have to get permission to change that reference in the script to “Thatcher”? What was the original name?
A: No permission was necessary, as Oscar Wilde has been dead long enough [since 1900] that the script is in the public domain. The original name (an imaginary person, not a real politician of the day) in the script was Cardew.
Q: How did the modernization work for you?
A (Paul Hardy): I’ll turn that around : how did you as the audience find it?
A: Modernization worked well in Acts 1-3, but seemed a bit forced in Act 4. Sensibility would have worked better if set in 1940’s or 50’s.
A (Paul Hardy): Yes, the shame [of having illegitimate child] in Act 4 was personal for Mrs. Arbuthnot, not societal. By the way, the play is written in 4 acts; we chose to put the intermission after Act 3.
Q: What is the significance of the butterflies and window frames on the set?
A (Paul Hardy): What does the audience think?
A: Windows with the destroyed bottom signify a broken home, or a broken standard in society?
A: Butterflies signify a metamorphosis?
A: The transparent chairs are easy to see behind and through.
A (Paul Hardy): I told set & costume designer Brandon Kleiman (who couldn’t be here today – he’s working in Stratford) that I wanted a very simple set because there would be 13 people onstage. Originally the windows were intended to move all over, but Brandon nixed that! He found inspiration in a piece of artwork that showed a dress with deconstructed hem and butterflies erupting – it spoke to us of rebirth and metamorphosis. The deteriorated windows signify decay.
Q: What’s the significance of the two women in old-fashioned dress who are onstage before the play starts?
A (Paul Hardy): That was just a bit of fun. I wanted to transition the audience from 1890’s to 1980’s and give a visual cue that this production is not the usual.
Q: The dining room scene [a silent bit in which the table is created by the servants spreading a tablecloth] was brilliantly staged!
Q: How long does it take to learn your lines?
A (Andy Fraser – Lady Hunstanton): I still don’t know mine!
A (Áine Magennis – Mrs. Artbuthnot): We started rehearsing in November. I’ve got my lines on my iPhone, and posted up all over my house, including in the shower (in a plastic protector)!
A (Nicholas Porteous – Gerald Arbuthnot): We make filthy jokes as a memory aid.
A (James Graham – Mr. Kelvil): It helps to know WHY you’re saying a particular line.
Q: I’m fascinated by Lady Caroline’s walk…
A (Gillian English – Lady Caroline): I can walk in heels better than Lady Caroline can; some of the walk was a character choice. Partly it was because of the way the pleather pants stick to my legs.
Q: In his book The Art of Coarse Acting, Michael Green says there’s a line in every show that could turn the whole play around. What’s the line in this show?
A (Paula Schultz – Mrs. Allonby): I believe it’s “Gout” – that’s just my personal opinion!
Q: The butler [Daniel Staseff] and the maid [Kathleen Pollard] didn’t say much, but I really enjoyed their performances.
Q: Was Lady Caroline’s costume meant to announce the 1980’s time period to the audience?
A: [Paul gets up from his chair and surveys Gillian’s glitzy outfit]: Yes!
A (Gillian): I figured that with each failed marriage, Lady Caroline adds more and more materialistic armour – it’s an accumulation of gaudy clothes and jewellery.
Q: How does the actor playing [Caroline’s henpecked husband] Sir John deal with the role?
A (Mike Vitorovich – Sir john): I drink a lot – at least 6 in the opening scene. And I try to do more every show!
Q: How do the actors feel about playing characters who may hold such different opinions from themselves?
A (Paula Schultz) – The things Mrs. Allonby says about gender equality are appalling. She’s so behind the time (in 1985). But the more divergent a character is from yourself, the more fun it is to play.
A (Sophia Fabiilli – Hester Worsley): You can’t judge the character. You have to love the character.
A (Andrew Batten – Lord Illingworth): We can find facets of ourselves in every character if we dig deep enough. Lord Illingworth is the tragic hero of this play – from his point of view, his actions make perfect sense.
Q: Why was the Vicar [Archdeacon Daubeny] portrayed so off the wall?
A (Jason Thompson – Archdeacon Daubeny]: He was written as a quirky character.
Q (to Jason): Have you done any movies? You’re very funny!
A (Kathleen Pollard jumps in): Are you casting any?
Q: Who in the cast is most similar to the character they played?
A (Paul, in diplomatic mode): Performers find the truth in every character. All the cast are genuinely nice and charming people, but they could share some of the issues of the characters they play!
A (Kathleen): I’m not onstage a lot, so get to watch the show every night, and it’s delightful to see it growing – it’s never the same from night to night.
A (Andy Fraser): Yes, it’s unfortunate that the run is so short [2-1/2 weeks]. It’s only by the end of the run that you go, “Oh, so THAT’S what that line means!”
Q: Loved Lady Stutfield’s [played by Amy Zuch] constant repetition of “very, very”!
Q: As the show evolves, are you ever horrified by the direction that new choices may take it?
A (Paul Hardy): That’s what I have a stage manager [Margot Devlin] for! No, I trust everyone and the work we did. The show grows and changes, but it’s never out of the shape that I wanted for it.
Q: Was the butler’s Groucho Marx-style schtick in the script?
A (Daniel Staseff): No, we came up with it in rehearsal.
——- And that, folks is when my pen literally ran out of ink and my writing hand cramped up!