Plays

Vera, or The Nihilists

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Vera, or the Nihilists is an early play by Oscar Wilde. Written in 1880, some twelve years before his first major theatrical success with Lady Windermere's Fan, it is a tragic melodrama which takes as its heroine a fictionalized version of Vera Zasulich, a Russian revolutionary in the pre-Bolshevik era; a 'Nihilist' as Dostoyevsky and Turgenev would have called her.

In Wilde's play, Zasulich is exhorted by her imprisoned brother to join the Nihilist movement in Moscow. There she rises up the ranks to become one of the movement's top assassins. She falls in love with a fellow revolutioanry, the brilliant Alexis, who in time will reveal a secret identity so unexpected that will test to the last Vera's love and commitment to her ideals.

Vera, or the Nihilists was originally programmed to premiere in Britain, to be produced by actor-manager, Dion Boucicault. Instead, political tensions were such in Britain at the time that Wilde decided to defer production. Instead, it premiered in New York in 1883, moving on to Detroit for a modest run.

A Woman of No Importance

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

A Woman of No Importance fuses comedy of manners with high melodrama, a serious protest against Victorian gender inequality ornately framed with perfect witticisms.

At Lady Hunstanton’s country house party, the quips are dazzling and the company is impeccably sophisticated – but beneath the laconic wit of society’s elite is brewing a turbulent drama of social double standards and sexual hypocrisy.

Gerald Arbuthnot is a young gentleman on the make, with an American heiress and the post of secretary to the brilliant but dissolute Lord Illingworth within his reach. But it is discovered that Lord Illingworth is Gerald's father, who seduced and abandoned his mother twenty years earlier. Horrified to find her son singing the praises of her seducer, Mrs Arbuthnot refuses to allow Gerald to continue in his service, and Gerald must choose between his wronged mother and a glittering career.

Wilde’s society comedy was first staged at the Haymarket theatre in London in 1893.

video A Woman of No Importance (Classic Spring)

Classic Spring Theatre Company
Type: Video

An earnest young American woman, a louche English lord, and an innocent young chap join a house party of fin de siècle fools and grotesques. Nearby a woman lives, cradling a long buried secret. Wilde’s marriage of glittering wit and Ibsenite drama create a vivid new theatrical voice.

A popular theatre genre that came to be equated with sensationalism and excess. Melodramas emerged in the nineteenth century from eighteenth-century French and German productions that combined music (melody) with drama. The use of music and the Gothic influence of virtue overcoming horror diminished, and melodramas turned to more domestic themes and later gave way to realism before succumbing to cinema and subsequently television. Few original melodramas were written; many were simply translations or adaptations from novels. By the beginning of the twentieth century productions were becoming increasingly spectacular. The genre lost its impetus early in the century but survived in various forms. David Belasco in the United States generated his own version; Alfred Jarry in Ubu Roi wrote a highly influential comic melodrama; and Sartre wrote an intellectual melodrama in Crime Passionel. Stoppard parodied the form in The Real Inspector Hound while Orton offered a burlesque of it in Loot. According to some theorists, a distinction can be made between tragedy, which deals with internal flaws, and melodrama, which deals with external forces.

from Adriana Hunter, The Continuum Companion to Twentieth-Century Theatre, ed. Colin Chambers (London, 2002).