Foot of the Hill’s A Woman of No Importance is a pleasure to watch. The story follows a group of upper-class people who have all gathered at the house of Lady Hunstanton (played by Ellie Malley), where they exchange comical, gossipy conversations. There is also recent news that Gerald Arbuthnot (Orlin Todorov) has been given the role of secretary to the powerful Lord Illingworth (William Gwynne). Gerald’s mother then arrives at the party and this is where the story takes a turn. Lord Illingworth is in fact Gerald’s father, an unknown fact to both Illingworth and Gerald. Mrs Arbuthnot (Poppy Mawdsley), becomes un-keen for her son to work alongside Illingworth due to his behaviour in the past and exchanges become fiery and heated. Filled with romantic endeavours and comical moments, A Woman of No Importance is a fun watch but also one that raises great points about society, leaving you thinking!
Taking place in Kenworthy Hall, the end-on stage is filled with a number of wooden chairs set in a semi-circle formation. These are all soon filled with guests of Lady Hunstanton. Soon conversation turns to gossip. It is extremely reminiscent of the TV series Bridgerton, with incredibly beautiful period costumes and accessories too. Costume designer Sakina Nathoo goes above and beyond and should be congratulated on her ability to help create a sense of place through her costumes. It only aided the imagination of the audience as they painted the picture of Hunstanton Manner with their minds. Each costume is different, from style to colour palette, which helps differentiate characters too.
It is not just the costumes that capture the difference between the characters, every single performer embodies their character so well, that they are some of the most believable performances I have ever seen! Malley creates a hilarious character. Her energy is second to none and her facial expressions are fantastic at capturing the mood of the scene, as she reacts to action going on around her. Cara Crofts playing Mrs Allonby, is another strong performer. Effortlessly capturing her character, Crofts embodies the slightly superior character but makes her extremely likeable with her sassy nature. Rhiannon Morgan as Lady Caroline Pontefract presents a prim and proper character, her interactions with husband John, played by Aisha Smith, are laughter-inducing. The dynamics between these characters and others on stage are electric, and you are drawn into the action.
Another great element of the show is the little moments of eye contact between characters who are not in dialogue. The directors Em Merchant and Samirah Nizar should be commended for this attention to detail. It keeps the flow of the action moving and adds a really nice naturalistic feel to the show. Ella-May van der Gaag constantly reacts with her eyes, which is really helpful in keeping the flow of the piece. At some points in the play, the staging can begin to feel slightly static as there is little movement and most characters are sat for long periods of time. However, this is only a minor point and the entrances, exits and use of the aisle in the audience add a movement to the performance.
The set is equally as impressive as the costumes. Set designer Lauren Edwards, uses simple but extremely effective ways of forming a space. Edwards’ use of covering chairs in patterned shawls and drapes showcases the drawing room really well. The space is set up perfectly for the actors to work with, evident in the final scene between Mrs Arbuthnot and Lord Illingworth. Poppy Mawdsley gives a stellar performance in this play. Her voice control and monologue delivery are outstanding. Mawdsley delivers a powerful final monologue admirably and her change in tone keeps the performance fresh. William Gwynne also gives a strong closing performance. Having built his character throughout the play, his last moments on stage demonstrate what an impressive performer he is having captured the essence of his slightly charming but not so nice character!
Foot of the Hill Theatre Company have presented a fantastic comedy, with standout performances and clever direction. The cast and crew should be incredibly proud of what they have created. They brought to life a classic tale that also has moments that felt relevant to society today, a brilliant performance from start to finish.
Image credit: Foot of the Hill Theatre Company