THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST: Oscar Wilde
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham 21 – 25 October
Runs: 2h 30m, one interval
Review: Alexander Ray Edser, 21 10 14
A cake, icing on the top, and a cherry on top of that.
Looking at the cast list you might be forgiven for thinking some cast members are a bit mature for some of the roles they are playing. This would be true were it not for a very clever conceit – making them all members of the Bunbury Company of Players recreating a previous hit production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST.
We’ve seen similar things before – but this one’s a bit different. This is a near dress rehearsal in the home of one of the company. And we see just enough of the rehearsal bit to remind us of the context, but not so much of it that the play can’t work.
Surprisingly, the play itself works surprisingly well. And much of this is due to the huge skills of this most accomplished company of actors. There is some fun at the play’s expense; but for the most part the play is treated with an appropriate respect.
Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis (Algernon and John W) whizz through the opening sections. But they have an easy going natural manner which underpins the delivery of OW’s highly crafted text. They work well as a pair, too, easy in each other’s presence. Cherie Lunghi and Christine Kavanagh (Gwendolen and Cecily) provide energy and sparkiness. Sian Phillips is a great joy as Lady Bracknell, her sure-fire delivery missing not a comic second.
It’s a strong cast all round, and William Dudley’s one set serves miraculously well for all settings. Lucy Bailey keeps it all flowing along nicely, with some excellent additional comedic touches – look out for the ladder.
Rosalind Ayres: Miss Prism / Wendy
Niall Buggy: Rev Canon Chasuble / Fergus
Patrick Godfrey: Merriman and Lane / George
Nigel Havers: Algernon Moncrieff / Dicky
Martin Jarvis: John Worthing / Tony
Christine Kavanagh: Cecily Cardew / Ellen
Cherie Lunghi: Gwendolen Fairfax / Maria
Sian Philips: Lady Bracknell / Lavinia
Portia Booroff: Cheryl
Carole Dance: Sasha
Hugh Osborne: Phillip
Woody Woodcock: The Footman
Lucy Bailey: Director
Simon Brett: Bunbury Writer
William Dudley: Designer
Oliver Fenwick: Lighting Designer
Tom Mills: Music and Sound