Monday, May 15, 2017
When Chester's Gateway Theatre closed its doors for the very last time ten years ago, there was the expectation that it would be replaced by a performing arts centre called the Northgate Development. However, the Northgate plans were put on hold in 2008, and it wasn't until 2012 that Cheshire West and Chester Council revealed an ambitious vision to transform the city centre's derelict Odeon cinema into a replacement theatre and picture house combined. This vision widened still further the following year with the announcement that the old Odeon building would be renovated and extended to become a cultural arts hub for the entire city.
Last week saw Chester's decade in the cultural wilderness finally come to an end with the grand opening of Storyhouse, a £37 million arts centre which incorporates an 800-seat auditorium, a 100-seat cinema, plus the city library, a community performance and rehearsal space, a restaurant, two bars, and a children's storytelling space. To be blunt, Storyhouse is nothing short of magnificent.
Who would have thought that a spelling mistake could lead to the ignominious and very public downfall of one of the greatest playwrights in British literary history? On February 18th, 1895, the Marquess of Queensberry left a card at the reception of the Albemarle Club for the attention of playwright Oscar Wilde. It simply read: "For Oscar Wilde, posing Somdomite". This card subsequently became Exhibit A in a libel case Wilde brought against Queensberry, but the truth was the Marquess knew exactly what he was doing in goading Wilde, who fell for his "booby trap".
The trial exposed more about Wilde's private life, proclivities and passions than he could ever have bargained for, and ultimately led to a counter-trial where the Crown prosecuted Wilde for gross indecency. The jury in this trial could not reach a verdict, but the retrial jury certainly did, and Wilde was sentenced to two years hard labour in prison. The sentence took its toll on Wilde both spiritually and physically, and three-and-a-half year later, he was dead, aged 46.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017
The last production I saw of Oscar Wilde's 1895 classic The Importance of Being Earnest lived up to the common conception that the play is a rather fusty, stilted, mildly amusing drawing-room comedy, performed with stiff upper lips and an air of superiority to the audience.
Not so with Richard Fitch's blisteringly energetic new production at Theatr Clwyd, which takes Wilde's magnum opus, holds it up to the light, decides that it's actually perfectly good as it is, but places it back down on the stage with a youthful enthusiasm that its creator would've revelled in.
The hallmarks of the play are all still there: the period setting, the lavish 19th century costumes, the acerbic and witty dialogue, the thematic intent to scratch the veneer of Victorian society to see what lies beneath. Everything that somebody going to see The Importance of Being Earnest would expect to see is there, but Fitch has given the presentation a jolly good shake and as a result, gives the play a fresh lease of life.