Young theatre company makes Wilde sparkle

Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

With so many chastity speakers visiting Sydney over the last 6 months, Catholics are more than familiar with the nuances of relationships and the importance of clear communication, the complexities of which make Upstage Production’s performance of An Ideal Husband enthralling to watch. 

The Oscar Wilde drama is a step forward for the young team after their forays into comedy with their previous plays, yet they handle the change deftly. 

Upstage’s performance is laden with dialogue and mature themes, and so may be ill-suited for children, yet the diverse cast make their mark with witty takes, stellar use of body language and raw emotion, making it a must see for those with a taste for the stage. 

Even before the play begins, the masterful set design captures the eye. It is clear that Upstage have used their budget wisely and produced a set that is both believable and easily moveable between acts.  

As designed, once the play begins, the set literally dissolves into the background of the actors. 

The actors are in top form for the entire play and no-one is wasted. The scene-stealing star is clearly James Driessen as Lord Chiltern. A newcomer to Upstage, Driessen injects Chiltern with an attention-grabbing mix of ambition, nervousness, and emotion that keeps the audience glued to the stage. 

Driessen’s co-stars add diverse performances to this dialogue-heavy play. Olivia Ryan as Lady Chiltern plays the flawed paragon of virtue brilliantly, bringing a genuineness to her melancholic and thought-provoking performance. 

Complementing Lord and Lady Chiltern are Tim Winkels and Elizabeth Rebecchi as Lord Goring and Mrs Cheverley, respectively. Both bring much needed levity between mostly mature performances.  

Upstage production - The Catholic weekly
Images by Giovanni Portelli Photography © 2024

Tim, a veteran with Upstage, is again on top form as Lord Goring, continuing his comedic streak from his previous performance in Arsenic and Old Lace 

Rebecchi is equally enthralling to watch as the manipulative Mrs Cheverley; she plays off Driessen’s emotion superbly. It’s a shame she’s not on stage as often as the other three leads. 

Even the smaller roles, such as the butlers (David Kennaugh and Joseph Nunes), find ways to add humorous quirks. 

As with any stage performance, it is more than the delivery of lines to watch out for. Bernadette Hunter is a joy to watch as she masterfully uses body language to squeeze out as many laughs while she’s on stage.  

All the background actors do a great job with bringing presence to the stage, even if their hands are filled with Wilde’s signature teacups for much of the time. 

The costumes are a delight and make the emotional monologues a treat to both the ears and eyes. Just like the set design, it is clear that Upstage know how to use their budget to make everything seem lived in and believable. 

Those hoping for a fun time for the whole family should note that the play is three hours and relies heavily on its strong performances to deliver themes of marital fidelity, politics, and love.  

While the background actors can offer a healthy distraction for younger viewers, parents will struggle to keep children entertained throughout the whole play, with its many monologues. 

Just as last year with The Importance of Being Earnest, Upstage Productions have once again brilliantly brought Oscar Wilde’s script to life.  

With the many quirks of side characters to balance the heavy tone of the play, director Paul Murphy, and his assistant Ben Rebecchi, have masterfully brought Upstage onto the dramatic stage and presented what it means to be an ideal husband. 

Tickets are available here.

Patrick O’Shea is the Special Liturgy, Sacristy & Social Media Assistant at St Mary’s Cathedral 

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