A Woman of No Importance
By OSCAR WILDE
Directed by EDA HOLMES
Designed by MICHAEL GIANFRANCESCO
Lighting designed by KEVIN LAMOTTE
Original music and sound designed by JOHN GZOWSKI
“Men marry because they are tired; women because they are curious. Both are disappointed.”
In this society, if you want to know what’s really going on, join the women on the terrace at Lady Hunstanton’s country house party. Marriage, affairs, divorce – and, of course, the wickedly attractive and scandalously unmarried Lord Illingworth are all thoroughly discussed. Word is that Illingworth would like to become a diplomat and make the young Gerald Arbuthnot his protégé. But when Gerald’s mother arrives at the party, their world is rocked when her long-concealed secret comes back to haunt them all. Wilde’s witty and piercing look at society’s public values and their impact on private lives.
“We have produced three of Wilde’s major plays during my tenure as Artistic Director and I am very pleased to include the fourth and final one in my last year. There is no doubt that Wilde’s skillful mix of comedy, style and social commentary is as resonant today as when he first presented it to an unsuspecting public and I have no doubt that Eda Holmes’ sophisticated take on the material will make this connection new and surprising.” —JM
This show is recommended for ages 12+.
Running time is approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes including one intermission.
Original Music and Sound Designer
Assistant Stage Manager
Miss Hester Worsley
Francis, the Footman
Alice, the Maid
Farquhar, the Butler
Lady Caroline Pontefract
Lord Alfred Rufford
Mr Kelvil MP
Sir John Pontefract
Lady Stutfield: Ah! The world was made for men and not for women.
Mrs Allonby: Oh, don’t say that Lady Stutfield. We have a much better time than they have. There are far more things forbidden to us then are forbidden to them.
The rules that govern the behaviour of men and women are at the heart of this play. They are much debated and joked about but the consequences for some are dire. Because we are at a country house for a weekend party at Lady Hunstanton’s estate, there is time to scrutinize and discuss the sometimes scandalous behaviour of this elite group’s peers. What makes this gathering unique is the presence of a young American girl – Hester Worsley – doing the country house weekend ritual for the first time. She is the object of much interest and she is not afraid to share her opinions. She is somewhat puritanical in her outlook on the behaviour of English society and she shares her disdain with American forthrightness:
Hester: You rich people in England, you don’t know how you are living … You shut out from your society the gentle and the good. You laugh at the simple and the pure … You love the beauty that you can see and touch and handle, the beauty that you can destroy, and do destroy, but of the unseen beauty of life, of the unseen beauty of a higher life, you know nothing. Oh, your English society seems to me shallow, selfish, foolish. Wilde introduces us to a range of women who gather to talk about the good, the bad and the ugly behaviour of their friends. Who is married, who should be married, who is no longer married – despite what Mrs Allonby tries to assert, that men suffer under society’s rules more than the women do, the play points out the inequity of one law existing for men while another one exists for women. That men who behave badly are still invited to dinner while the women are cast out of society.
The one person Hester does seem to like is Gerald Arbuthnot, a young man in the party who has been offered a respectable secretary position (despite his humble upbringing) to the successful and most fashionable Lord Illingworth. Lord Illingworth has made his reputation by “speaking to every woman as if he loved her and every man as if he were bored with him.” He is the dandy with a dark past, and as the party progresses, we learn just how one woman suffers greatly from the consequences of this inequity and how her ‘importance’ is judged.
Herbert Beerbohm Tree, actor-manager of London’s Haymarket Theatre, asked Oscar Wilde to write a play for him following the success of Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. Wilde was reluctant because the character Tree would take was not the sort of part he associated with the actor. Wilde described this character, Lord Illingworth, as “quite unlike anyone who has been seen on the stage before. He is like no one who has existed before … He is certainly not natural. He is a figure of art. Indeed, if you can bear the truth, he is MYSELF.”
The play opened on April 19, 1893. The first performance was a great success, though Wilde, while taking his bow as the author, was booed, apparently because of a line stating “England lies like a leper in purple” (said by Hester Worsley). The Prince of Wales attended the second performance and told Wilde not to alter a single line to which Wilde commented “What a splendid country where princes understand poets.” The play was a great success for Wilde and Shaw always considered it superior to The Importance of Being Earnest.
Continue the Conversation
July 15, 27, August 11, September 9, October 5
Long after the curtain falls, Shaw audience members continue to talk about the intellectual and emotional meanings of the play. Why not join us to continue the conversation? Following select matinees of A Woman of No Importance meet with fellow patrons for a moderated discussion. Complimentary.
The Shaw’s premier adult education experience. Enrich your understanding of the work on our stages through discussions with artists, writers, scholars, and fellow participants. Includes: six plays, lunches, reception, presentations and parking. From $780.
May 18-20 and September 28-30
Calling all theatre lovers! Meet the creative minds behind theatre-making at the Shaw Festival, from play selection to play direction. Includes: four plays, three lunches, presentations, and parking. From $395.
Learn from the pros! All workshops led by Shaw artists and professionals. One workshop: $55; all three workshops: $150.
Book Beyond the Stage events at 1.800.511.7429.
Watch a short video on what patrons are saying about A Woman of No Importance.
… the cast is wonderful and the staging and set design work beautifully.
This show is practically perfect — smart, witty, lush-looking, and just a bit of melodrama. We’ve seen it twice. Not a weak performance from anyone in the cast, and several superb performances. The Shaw has never done Wilde so well.
… radiates 1950s decadence and glamour. Coniving, deceitful, and all-around captivating.
A visual delight for set and amazing costumes and very entertaining.
Once again, Shaw has done a superb job of taking a play written in Victorian times and made in 100 % relevant for today (without changing a word of the Oscar Wilde’s fabulous script).
A Woman of No Importance was wonderful. Perfect way to kick off Canada Day weekend.
Fiona Byrne was absolutely brilliant in the last act! So love our visits to the Shaw Festival.