Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

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The Importance of Being Earnest, Little Theatre, Dover Street

September 9th –Saturday 14th

Review by Lynette Watson

 

The Importance of Being Earnest was arguably Oscar Wilde’s most popular play and sadly his last having been performed in 1895 just a few years before his death. It is a satirical comedy ridiculing the hypocrisy of Victorian society, a zany mix of mistaken identities, melodramatic characters and a chaotic convoluted plot relying on Wilde’s witty finely written language for laughs brimful of his most suitable epigrams and is less about class, love and deception and more his declarations on life. The play opens the new season at The Little Theatre and centres around two upper crust society gents, Algernon Moncrieff and John Worthing, both with alter egos in love with two girls and having to suffer the lengthy interrogation of the haughty Lady Bracknell questioning their suitability as prospective husbands. Whilst remaining true to the traditional style of performance, there were moments when the play could have veered into the realms of farcical melodrama but experienced director John Bale just managed to take the action to the wire without actually tripping over it! His strong cast did him proud, Keiran Whelan-Newby and Joseph Dickinson as Algernon and John respectively equally matched each other in the verbal sparring duologues inventing some ridiculous lies about their alter egos as the imaginary character Earnest. Both Katherine Ardley and Katie Proctor provided the love interests of both men as Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew bouncing off each other with the Katherine’s highly clipped voice soaring up and down the vocal scale in wild abandon in contrast to the more cheeky but subtle delivery of Katie, a delightful pairing. Taking on the role of snobbish Lady Bracknell, Jo Jones was both commanding and intimidating perceptively playing down the iconic lines which made her character more believable and surprisingly it worked.

Some light relief was injected into this extremely ‘wordy’ play by Jane Towers as Miss Prism, Cecily’s hip flask swigging governess breathlessly flirting with the vicar Rev Canon Chasuble played in caricature style by Charles Moss, a great comedic double act.

Alec Davis’ simple but effective set together with, as always, John Bale’s stunning costume design and the unexpected twist at the end of the play ensured the production was a certain audience pleaser. The message Wilde quoted after completing the play is as relevant today as it was then and I quote ‘The truth is rarely pure and never simple’ wise words indeed.