A young aristocrat is so impressed by a palmist’s prediction that he will commit a murder that he decides to take fate by the horns and sacrifice a relative before marrying his fiancee.
As Oscar Wilde left it, Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime is the slightest of short stories, a ridiculous, powder-puff satire on the gullibility and amorality of the upper classes.
To convert it into an evening’s entertainment, albeit a short one, risks the joke outstaying its welcome. And Trevor Baxter, who has made this adaptation which is touring under the Bill Kenwright banner, has a heavy-handed way with Wilde’s delicate wit.
In stretching out the story Baxter has plundered material from Wilde’s other works, but there is also a lot of dialogue which is in the manner of Wilde but not nearly as good.
An instance of how laboured it becomes is the way in which Lady Windermere’s plan to spend a year in a hot air balloon because her “chiromantist”, Mr Podgers, has warned that she will be in danger by both land and sea – a mere passing joke in Wilde’s story – is spun out. Podgers, who makes only two brief appearances in the original, now becomes Lord Arthur’s active accomplice in a pleasantly gruff performance by Gary Wilmot. Where Wilde doesn’t bother to explain anything, Baxter seems over-anxious to fill in the motivational gaps.
Of course it still doesn’t make any sense, and so the play is set within an ironic frame of Victorian melodrama. The set, resembling a giant Pollock’s toy theatre, looks promising and the live music from piano and violin is an attractive touch.
But it’s a rather leaden enterprise, despite a spirited performance in the title role, in the flop-haired tradition of Hugh Grant, from Lee Mead, winner of the TV reality show Any Dream Will Do. David Ross has some of the best moments as the Dean of Chichester – a character who hardly appears at all in the original story.