Alumnae Theatre Company’s production of Oscar Wilde’s social satire A Woman of No Importance opens on Friday, January 25. To get audiences somewhat up to speed, I posed a few questions to the cast. Here’s the first installment – more to follow, as they submit their responses.
What’s a little intrigue between friends? Our upper class of characters bandy politics and morals. L-R: Lord Illingworth (Andrew Batten), Mrs. Allonby (Paula Schultz), Lady Caroline Pontefract (Gillian English, in back row), Sir John Pontefract (Michael Vitorovich), Mrs. Arbuthnot (Áine Magennis), Lady Hunstanton (Andy Fraser, in back row), Lady Stutfield (Amy Zuch, in pink jacket), Mr. Kelvil (James Graham), Farquhar the butler (Daniel Staseff, with tray), Frances the maid (Kathleen Pollard), Archdeacon Daubeny (Jason Thompson), and in FRONT ROW: Gerald Arbuthnot (Nicholas Porteous), Miss Hester Worsley (Sophia Fabiilli).
Q #1: Who do you play in A Woman of No Importance? Tell us a little about your character.
Lord Illingworth (Andrew Batten) flirts with his favourite sparring partner, Mrs. Allonby (Paula Schultz): “Nothing spoils a romance so much as a sense of humour in the woman.”
ANDREW BATTEN: I play Lord Illingworth, who I think is really the hero of the whole piece. Humble, self-effacing, warm, kind – he’s really a remarkable guy. Some of the other actors seem a bit confused about his character – words like “lech”, “misogynist” and “icky” have been used. I’m not exactly sure where they’re coming from, but we’re all professionals and I’m sure all the misunderstandings will be ironed out by opening night.
ANDY FRASER: I play Lady Hunstanton – she thinks of herself not as shallow (see question #4), but as “very practical – and terribly helpful!”
NICHOLAS PORTEOUS: I play Gerald Arbuthnot. At first he appears to be a simple, fresh-faced and hopeful young lad with a spring in his step and a song in his heart. As the play continues, he’s forced to question his most fundamental values. He starts off very Disney and becomes something much more complicated.
Q #2: Director Paul Hardy has changed the period setting of the play from the 1890’s (which is when Oscar Wilde wrote it) to the 1980’s. What surprised you about making the time switch? Did you discover issues or social mores that were surprisingly similar (or not) almost 100 years apart?
ANDREW BATTEN: I’m surprised by the continued relevance of Elton John’s music. Apparently Elton wrote the original version of “Tiny Dancer” in 1891, but it was still very popular throughout the 1980’s. I’ve heard a rumour that the secret to Sir Elton’s eternal life was the sale of his soul to Disney Corp., but I don’t know any of the details.
Q #3: Can you relate any anecdotes from rehearsal (e.g: : another actor – in character or out – doing something unexpected)?
ANDREW BATTEN: No-one ever really knows what Jason [Jason Thompson, who plays Archdeacon Daubeny] is going to do. He puts the bold in bold choices. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do the entire show with a raw turkey on his head.
NICHOLAS PORTEOUS: For one run Paul gave Jason a note to play his character Dr. Daubeny a bit more drug-addled. He ran with it so hard that every character in the room appeared almost as high and delighted as he was. The spontaneous mirror-exercise with Lady Hunstanton was the “high”light.
Archdeacon Daubeny (Jason Thompson- far right) expounds about his saintly wife to anyone who will listen – Farquhar the butler (Daniel Staseff, left), Frances the maid (Kathleen Pollard), and Lady Hunstanton (Andy Fraser): “Her deafness is a great privation to her. She can’t even hear my sermons now.”
Photo: Bruce Peters
Q #4: Do you have a favourite line or moment from the play – yours or anyone else’s?
ANDREW BATTEN: I really like Nic’s [Nicholas Porteous, playing Gerald Arbuthnot, son of the “Woman” of the play title] line “You know I love Hester Worsley. Who could help loving her?” just because every time he says it Sophia [Sophia Fabiilli, as Hester] floats a few inches higher off the floor. Also, I like every time someone says something nice about Lord Illingworth because it makes me feel like they’re finally figuring the character out (see response to question #1).
ANDY FRASER: My favourite line (my own) is “My dear young lady, there was a great deal of truth, I dare say, in what you said, and you looked very pretty while you said it, which is much more important.”
NICHOLAS PORTEOUS: I have to give a shout-out to “He picked up the cudgel for that pretty prude with wonderful promptitude.” Half of the amazingness of this line is that it doesn’t even need to be interesting. It shows how unstoppably clever Lord Illingworth is, even when describing his own embarrassing scandals. He can’t help it.
Hmmm. Since two of his castmates have now mentioned him, doesn’t that make you curious to see just what exactly the notorious Jason Thompson gets up to onstage? Let’s hope we hear from the man himself next! And don’t forget to reserve tickets: firstname.lastname@example.org