Theatre An Ideal Husband Theatre Royal, Haymarket

The casting of Martin (The Professionals) Shaw as Oscar Wilde's languidly foppish Lord Goring might sound on paper as perilously perverse a plan as, say, inviting Sean Connery to play the lead in a biopic about Proust. In practice, though, Shaw is quite wonderful in the part - even better now than he was when Peter Hall's splendidly enjoyable and thought- provoking production of An Ideal Husband was unveiled in 1992.

Simon Russell Beale, our era's greatest interpreter of Restoration fops, specialises in allowing glimpses at the emptiness and despairing self- hatred that can lie behind all that narcissistic preening. By contrast, the joy of Shaw's performance is the humour and humanity with which he lets you see that Lord Goring, Wilde's 1890s dandy, has a rich hinterland. The voice he uses may sound, paradoxically, like Noel Coward drawling. The jut of the tubby tummy and the effeteness of the posture may suggest that if games really are character-building, then Lord Goring's character is still at the design stage.

But if Shaw occasionally hints at an underlying melancholy, he also shows how this is continually counteracted by the sheer strength of Goring's warm good nature. Indicating tolerance and flexibility, his floppiness seems decidedly attractive when ranged beside the rigid backbone of his best friends, Sir Robert and Lady Chiltern (David Yelland and Penny Downie). The latter's marriage comes near to breaking point when Anna Carteret's insolently stylish Mrs Cheveley threatens to disclose to the press the dishonest act on which Sir Robert has built his fortune and political career. What follows suggests that dandiacal egotists aren't necessarily as self-preoccupied as righteous public servants.

In this revival, Penny Downie replaces Hannah Gordon as Lady Chiltern, a woman who has placed her husband on such a pedestal of idealisation that he cannot share the secret of his past with her. Downie excels at playing strong women - she was a superb Queen Margaret in Richard III and has just impersonated a ball-breaking third-century warrior queen in the RSC's Zenobia. Here, almost to a fault, she transfers that gift to depicting the pressurising neurotic intensity with which Lady Chiltern needs to believe that her husband's rightful place is on an unimpeachable plinth.

When I saw this production in 1992, what made most impression on me was Hall's underscoring of the piece with the imperial music of Elgar. That, plus the huge medal of Queen Victoria that descends between the acts, gave me visions of flag-waving women sending their men off to war and of the men not being able to confess to weakness.

This time I was more struck by the hints of bisexuality in a play that, at times, seems to want to develop into something more like EM Forster's Maurice. Were Sir Robert and Lord Goring ever lovers in the long-distant past? In some ways, the play would make better sense if they had been, and our recognition of Milord's generosity would be intensified.

As it is, Goring has to be married off to Miss Mable who aspires to be his quipping, divinely irresponsible female equivalent, even though a bespectacled Victoria Hasted plays her like a refugee from Daisy Pulls It Off. A hockey stick would make a thoughtful wedding present, and you can't help but feel that the marriage will end in tears.

n To 20 April. Booking: 0171-930 8800

PAUL TAYLOR

Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

music
Arts and Entertainment
The episode saw the surprise return of shifty caravan owner Susan Wright, played by a Pauline Quirke (ITV)

Review: Broadchurch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo are teaming up for a Hurricane Katrina drama

film
Arts and Entertainment
Just folk: The Unthanks

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore