Theatre: Oscar nominated

The Importance of Being Oscar Savoy Theatre, London

A one-man show can be a canny way of keeping a career going through lean periods. Gielgud, for example, spent so many years touring The Ages of Man that he worried about ever being able to act with other people again. Assemble the greatest hits of a distinguished writer, throw in some commentary and anecdote and, well, it beats busking in the Underground.

From 1961, when he devised it, until a tour just a few years before his death in 1978, The Importance of Being Oscar was a mainstay to Micheal MacLiammoir, the egregious co-founder of Dublin's Gate Theatre. In his book Being an Actor, Simon Callow gives a funny and affectionate account of the performer at a time when he was so nearly blind that it was only by swathing the stage in his own dazzlingly patterned carpet that he could prevent himself toppling over the edge. Now, in Patrick Garland's production at the Savoy, the MacLiammoir vehicle becomes a showcase for Callow himself.

The result is oddly frustrating. Even if you haven't read Callow's excellent essay on Wilde in the programme, you're continually aware that the linking bits are by MacLiammoir and that they now seem a bit dated. An excellent opportunity has been missed here. Callow's abilities as a mimic admittedly aren't infallible - his Lady Bracknell is, in her effeminate whinnying, more my idea of Georgie, the precious bachelor in E F Benson's Mapp & Lucia novels, and his impersonation of the degenerating portrait of Dorian Gray looks less the last word in depravity than retarded rusticity on its last legs.

But, given his vivid multiple transformations in a recent production of Volpone and the impersonations that do come to life here (among them a splendid comic cameo of a Northern Irish prison warder who sought Wilde's literary opinions), the odds are that Callow could do a cracking take- off of MacLiammoir. Instead of simply reviving The Importance of Being Oscar in a way that leaves him neither playing a role, exactly, nor being himself, it might have been more interesting if Callow had made a dramatic point of the fact that this was MacLiammoir's portrait of Wilde, thus bringing out the fascinating parallels between the two men and accounting for the performer's obsessive identification. (Thus, where Wilde was an Irishman who refashioned himself as a London sophisticate, "MacLiammoir" was the invented name of Alfred Willmor of Willesden whose cultural remaking was in the opposite direction.)

Simon Callow as Micheal MacLiammoir as Oscar Wilde and his creations? If that sounds top heavy, you can't have seen Neil Bartlett's play-within- a-play, life-mirrors-art version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. The admirable thing about Bartlett, though, is that his work on Wilde is always careful to situate itself in the history of gay culture. Wilde knew that he was a man who "stood in symbolic relation to the art and culture of my age". But what he symbolises for subsequent periods changes. Genial, witty, sometimes pleasingly hammy, and often moving, this production could, to all intents and purposes, be taking place at any time since the 1967 Act.

To 10 May. Booking: 0171-836 8888

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

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.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there