Synonymous with the works of late 19th century playwright and author Oscar Wilde are observations of romance, intrigue, and politics.
In the society comedy 'An Ideal Husband' – penned by Wilde in 1893 – themes of blackmail and political corruption run rife. Taking it 100 years into the future, is writer Lewis Treston, who has adapted the work to fit with our modern moment. “The idea was to sort of do a radical, Australian adaptation of a classic text,” Lewis explains.
Lewis’ 'An Ideal Husband' is set in the future, at a time when politics was seemingly failing the people it was supposed to help. Set in 1996 Canberra, the nation’s political capital is plagued with hypocrisy and farce, decorated with a hilarity synonymous with Wilde’s famed style. As Lewis explains, his writing is edged with a witty sensibility, and, as a child of the '90s, he saw certain parallels between issues in Wilde’s time and our own recent history. Having played around with the political and romantic idealism presented in the source, Lewis says of the reimagined 'An Ideal Husband', “We're sort of living in a moment from the way I see it, where there's a kind of a desire.”
“There's sort of a perfectionist mindset within our culture now, but so often, life falls short of that, and that can be disheartening and dispiriting. Like everyone, I'm very concerned about the climate and things like that. But so often, political reality becomes so much more complicated than that just to make change happen.
“The tension within the play, as I read it, and what I've brought out in this adaptation, is that conflict between political pragmatism and political idealism, because when I reread the play, I thought it was a play about lost idealism. It is a comedy, but the more I looked at it, the more I thought this is a play about people losing touch with their ideals.”
Lewis’ focus on shifting the play’s action to 1996 comes from his observations of the policies and conduct of then-Prime Minister Paul Keating. “He was more of a political idealist, who was making sort of radical shifts within the country, in terms of Indigenous issues, and many other different things,” Lewis explains. “He was sort of evolving Australia into a more cultured society, essentially. And then there was this radical shift over to John Howard, where it was all about political pragmatism. It was totally about fiscal conservativeness.”
“We thought that would be an interesting moment in history, which spoke to the things that I wanted to explore in the play.
“To be totally honest, we all thought it'd be fun from a design point of view. We also love the '90s music; we love the '90s mood. We were all really enjoying kind of '90s cinema, '90s sitcoms, we also thought that would be a good marriage between Oscar Wilde and the sort of '90s sensibility.”
Though 1996 is now 26 years into our past, Lewis is certain that, for the audience’s enjoyment, there will be elements in the new adaptation of 'An Ideal Husband' that (while holding true to the dramatic nuances of Wilde’s original and capturing the essence of a highly politicised mid-'90s Australia) will nod to current socio-political discussions – with lashings of wit and humour, of course. “I'm a comic writer, so I hope everyone comes and has a really big laugh! We have absolutely hilarious actors, and [Director] Bridget Boyle is a trained clown,” Lewis says.
“I also think it is interrogating questions that could appeal to a lot of different audiences, because it's about something universal – it's about how do you reconcile your ideals in love and politics and this sort of pragmatic reality? I think that's relevant to everyone, no matter who you are.” 'An Ideal Husband' is on at La Boite Theatre (Brisbane) from 18 July-6 August.