Vaudeville Theatre, London – until 14 July 2018
For the first time ever Edward Fox, 81, is joined by his son, Freddie Fox, 29, on stage and it is a partnership that brings out the best in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband. The surprisingly modern comedy (about insider trading and dodgy politicians) is the third major production, and, by far, the most successful of Dominic Dromgoole’s year-long Wilde season at the Vaudeville Theatre.
One could argue that casting Fox Snr, and his very assured young cub, is a marketing ploy but I wouldn’t be so cynical. For you only have to watch a few minutes of this exuberant production, directed by Jonathan Church, to appreciate their superb understanding of every epigram and intonation.
Pater Fox has played everything – or so it seems. In the show programme it simply states: “Edward Fox is an actor with a very long career.” An understatement. In fact, it started on stage 60 years ago, with his film career kicking off four years later. So his appearance as Lord Caversham, an elder statesman, with the PM’s ear, is a walk in the park.
Caversham is the straight man to his son, the dandy Lord Goring, played with overwhelming composure and aplomb by Freddie. They make a terrific double act. He’s more than up to the challenge. There are a few telling father/son lines that Caversham delivers with a deadpan, exasperated, expression that bring the house down purely because we can imagine Edward Fox having the same conversation at home.
Caversham calls on his son in a bid to get him to consider marrying but ends up gruffly rebuffing his son’s sympathy when he sneezes.
“I quite agree with you, father. If there was less sympathy in the world there would be less trouble in the world.”
“That is a paradox, sir. I hate paradoxes.
“So do I, father. Everybody one meets is a paradox nowadays. It is a great bore. It makes society so obvious”.
Fox turns slightly towards the audience, and, looking at his son beneath his bushy eyebrows, replies: “Do you always really understand what you say, sir?”
It’s astonishing to believe that Freddie isn’t a West End veteran. He delivers a commanding turn. Not since Branagh has anyone so young look so established and comfortable on stage. He has a long career ahead of him as a leading man. The charming Freddie oozes stage presence.
And he thinks on his feet when things go wrong.
On press night he held a note to a candle flame and it resolutely refused to burn. A few adlibs later and you’d think Church had written it into the dialogue.
Foxes aside Frances Barber over eggs her turn as blackmailer Mrs Cheveley, creating a pantomime villain.
But it’s excusable. You need extreme villainy in a comedy where the remaining cast are so typically Wildean – not a sensible brain cell among any of them.
Susan Hampshire is a hoot as the blunt-speaking snob, Lady Markby, and Nathaniel Parker gives a strong performance as Sir Robert Chiltern – the less than Ideal Husband.
Mrs Cheveley plots and schemes after learning a dark secret about his past.
He’s been put on a pedestal by his priggish wife who hero worships him. But in the early days of his political career he was reckless in the extreme and now faces paying the price.