Gina Riley Kim goes Wilde on stage
Kath and Kim star Gina Riley is treading the boards in Oscar Wilde’s enduring comedy.
THERE’S MORE THAN a touch of the snooty shopkeepers Prue and Trude in Lady Markby, Oscar Wilde’s upper-class conservative who bemoans the education of women and the impact of politics on married life. That’s according to Gina Riley – known for creating and playing Kim in Kath and Kim (and donning a grey bob wig to play Trude) – who is stepping into Lady Markby’s shoes and appropriately stiff corset for Melbourne Theatre Company’s new production of Wilde’s
An Ideal Husband. “She’s a socialite on the wrong side of 45,” Riley says of the character. “She’s very sure of her place in society and doesn’t quite understand people who want to change the status quo.”
Life has been good to Lady Markby, who sees peril in moving with the quickly shifting sands of society, and comments: “Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern. One is apt to grow old fashioned quite suddenly.”
Although she’s played some big roles on stage, most of Riley’s TV career has been in satirising contemporary Australia’s conservatism and frequently unacknowledged class structure. Wilde’s play took a similarly scathing approach to 1890s London society. “I think that’s probably a comedian’s job – to hold a mirror,” she says. “Not in a preachy way or anything, but I think you can, when you’re funny, be quite political, and people will be entertained and listen in a different way to if you’re just doing the facts.”
At the centre of An Ideal Husband is an upstanding politician, Robert Chiltern (played by Les Misérables star Simon Gleeson), who is blackmailed over past misdeeds by his wife’s former schoolmate (played by Christie Whelan Browne). While the specifics of the plot could only have come out of a particular time and place, Riley says it speaks to the hypocritical moralising of politicians – a kind she felt was on clear display during last year’s postal survey on same-sex marriage. Not only that, but Wilde’s wit and wordplay still pack a punch. “The word ‘genius’ is bandied around about men too much, but he is an incredible writer,” she says.
Her character is on the periphery of the play commenting on the action, and she gets some of Wilde’s best punchlines. “I’m of an age now where these parts come along: she just walks on stage, drops a whole lot of zingers, then exits stage left and everybody else has to do all the heavy lifting. I’m loving the idea of all of that.”
“Gina has such a brilliant ability to tread the line of ridiculousness while looking terribly serious,” says director Dean Bryant. “In all her best comic work it’s clear she really is a great actor, but she still has a weird comic cog in the back of her head.” Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne 3004. 1300 182 183. www.artscentremelbourne.com.au. $39-$124. Jul 16-Aug 18.
“She walks on stage, drops a whole lot of zingers and exits stage left”