Oscar Wilde’s A Woman of No Importance is the autumn production from the Chichester Players.
It will be directed by Richard Kinder with performances running from October 31 to November 2 each evening at 7.30pm with a matinee on Saturday at 2.30pm.
Richard said “I am a devotee of Oscar Wilde’s plays and have acted in and directed several of them.
“I have always been interested in and incensed at the circumstances of his treatment by the public at large and especially by the high society who first idolised him and then threw him to the wolves.
“After I retired and moved down to the area, I became a volunteer at Petworth House. In one of the bedrooms occasionally opened to the public, there was a portrait of a woman who I recognised immediately as Sibyl, Marchioness of Queensberry, mother of Lord Alfred Douglas, Wilde’s male lover, and the person who gave him the nickname Bosie. Further research revealed that she was born a member of the Wyndham family who still live in Petworth House.
“Even more interesting was the fact that in the same room, there is also a portrait of Sibyl’s eldest son Francis Douglas, whose early death in a shooting ‘accident’ would set in motion the sequence of events leading to Wilde’s conviction for gross indecency.
“The links between the Wilde scandal and Petworth House did not stop there because the wife of the owner of Petworth was the sister of Lord Rosebery who was Home Secretary and subsequently Prime Minister when the scandal broke. While he was Home Secretary, Rosebery appointed Francis his secretary. Francis, however, was a surprising choice as he was not particularly intellectual. Society tongues began to wag, as Rosebery was rumoured to be bisexual, and Francis was just as good-looking as his younger brother.
“The key issue in relation to A Woman of No Importance is that these events all happened around the time that Wilde was writing the play, which begins with the central male character Lord Illingworth appointing a young man with no great prospects as his secretary. Was this therefore a tacit reference to Rosebery’s surprise appointment in the real world? Wilde was well-known for pushing the boundaries in his plays, so I wouldn’t put it past him!
“The play has achieved greater significance recently due to the advent of the #metoo campaign. At its most basic level, this is a story about a man who has done a woman wrong by getting her pregnant out of wedlock and the huge price she has had to pay, while he gets off scot-free. It is highly critical of a woman’s place in society at the end of the Victorian age, and Wilde makes it clear that many of the women in the play are much more in tune with the world than their male counterparts. People who are only familiar with The Importance of Being Earnest will be surprised at how much more aware Wilde was of social issues.
“The play is peppered with so many of the quips and witticisms for which he is renowned, and audiences will not be disappointed.”
The National Trust management at Petworth Houseallowed the Players to photograph publicity material in the grounds, which can be seen on www.chichester.co.uk an also on the Players website www.chichesterplayers.org.uk.