Gina Ri­ley Kim goes Wilde on stage

Kath and Kim star Gina Ri­ley is tread­ing the boards in Os­car Wilde’s en­dur­ing com­edy.

Time Out (Melbourne) - - INSIDE - By Ben Neutze

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.arts­cen­tremel­ $39-$124. Jul 16-Aug 18.

“She walks on stage, drops a whole lot of zingers and ex­its stage left”

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