The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. The Rose Theatre. Kingston upon Thames to 12 November 2022. 2** stars. William Russell.

Reading the programme this sounded like an evening which would challenge, try something new – it has a cast of actors of colour, which is in itself interesting, has chosen to make Chasuble and Prism Lesbians, which is something new, and cast a drag queen as Lady Bracknell – men have played her before, but no reason to object. The director Denzel Westley-Sanderson sees it as a wonderfully silly comedy about reclaiming truth and honouring truth and also a chance with this cast to make people think about Black Victorians. It started life at Leeds Playhouse where some critics liked it and no has ended her in Kingston. Doubts started right at the beginning as the cast came on and danced around in a silly fashion to some jolly music and once things began it was clear this was going to be a rollercoaster to nowhere. It is possibly the worst Importance of Being Earnest ever with the cast failing to rise to the challenge of the play time and again. A drag queen would surely have at the very least a mastery of timing a gag but repeatedly Lady Bracknell’s words plop to the floor with a thud in Daniel Jacob’s performance. If you cannot get a laugh in the handbag line something is seriously wrong. The Gwendoline and Cecily cannot ope with the feline wit of their meeting, Merriman and Lane, the man servants, played by the same actor, behave as no man servants would dare – at the end Lady Bracknell is casting lust filled looks in his and his direction. It matters not that Prism and Chasuble are of the same sex because they might as well not have bothered to turn out for all the impact they make. To be fair Justice Richie makes a passable John Worthing, but he never manages to suggest he might be a coloured gentleman with a country estate, and his banter with Abiola Owokonira, a nicely avaricious Algernon, never flies. These people do not fit into any conceivable world, whereas Wilde new exactly who he was writing about, pinning them down with precision and wit. There are laughs because the play is funny but lines repeatedly get mistimed and the physical action invented by the director belongs more to something called Carry On Earnest than anywhere, and if Wilde had wanted to write that sort of farce he surely would have done.There are times one leaves theatres deeply depressed and irritated by what one has seen and this was one such. The man behind me was one of nature’s laughers which did not help but as he left it became clear this was the first time he had seen the play. As an introduction to Wilde this one is nothing short of tragic. I do not know what people saw on stage in Leeds but on stage in Kingston I saw an evening to forget. Rapidly. Somebody said of this English Touring Theatre production that it was one of the most stylish ever staged of Earnest -one does wonder how many they had previously seen.

Johns Worthing: Justice Ritchie.

Algernon Moncrief: Abiola Owokonira.

Dr Chasuble: Anita Reynolds.

Merriman/Lane: valentine Hanson.

Gwendolin: Adele James.

Cecily: Phoebe Cahmpbell.

Miss Prism; Joanne Henry.

Lady Bracknell: Daniel Jacob.

Director: Denzel Westley-Sanderson.

Designer: Lily Arnold.

Lighting Designer: Zoe Spurr.

Sound Designer and Composer: Beth Duke.

Movement Director and Choreographer: Tinovimbanashe Sibanda.

Production Photographs: Mark Senior.

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