THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
by Oscar Wilde.
Tour to 20 June 2015.
Runs 2hr 30min Two intervals.
Review: Alan Geary: 13 May at Theatre Royal Nottingham.
A commendably straightforward production that excels.
It would be disingenuous to claim that with the latest Importance of Being Earnest director Adrian Noble has come up with a gimmick-free production: to deploy David Suchet as Lady Bracknell has to be a box-office ploy. But in more fundamental respects this is indeed gimmick-free. Noble avoids plastering himself all over the production. Save for the Suchet/Lady Bracknell wheeze he lets Wilde speak for himself.
The set is realistic, with palatial rooms for interiors; a thematic contrast to the bright, sunlit and green country garden exterior in the middle act. And there’s no period shift; this is emphatically the 1890s, so all the lines make sense. And Noble has all his actors speaking the text with respect and clarity.
Nothing is lost, by Lady Bracknell especially. Suchet’s delivery of lines allows us to enjoy them. Surrounded as he is by the ghosts of his predecessors, he underplays that handbag line, getting it semi-lost in his own laughter. And finally, when everyone else is romantically teamed up, Lady Bracknell, tall and bulky and alone, takes out a hanky to dab her nose.
From the first scene Algernon (Philip Cumbus) is obviously fin de siècle: he’s clad in a dressing gown at tea-time; and he’s smoking. Michael Benz’s Jack Worthing is nicely contrasted with him. Both are, rightly, played mannered but non-effeminate. Sadly, insufficient is made of the comic potential of Algernon’s early scenes with Lane (David Killick); that line about the non-availability of cucumbers even for ready money goes unexploited.
Jack speculates whether Gwendolen (Emily Barber) will get to be like her mother; Barber’s performance indicates that she undoubtedly will. Again by contrast, Cecily (Imogen Doel) is pale, fragile, unsophisticated and vulnerable. But, like Gwendolen, she’s calculating. Michele Dotrice’s dotty Miss Prism is the hit of the evening. Her scenes with Chasuble (Richard O’Callaghan) are wonderful; so is the recognition scene at the end.
A full house enjoyed this first performance of a short tour. A limited London run follows.
John Worthing, JP: Michael Benz.
Algernon Moncrieff: Philip Cumbus.
Rev Canon Chasuble, DD: Richard O’Callaghan.
Merriman: Brendan Hooper.
Lane: David Killick.
Footman: Mark Hammersley.
Lady Bracknell: David Suchet.
Hon Gwendolen Fairfax: Emily Barber.
Cecily Cardew: Imogen Doel.
Miss Prism: Michele Dotrice.
Director: Adrian Noble.
Designer/Costume: Peter McIntosh.
Lighting: Howard Harrison.
Sound: Gareth Owen.
Music: Larry Blank.
18-23 May 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Cambridge Arts Theatre 01223 503333 www.cambridgeartstheatre.com
25-30 May 7.30pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Malvern Theatres 01684 892277 www.malvern-theatres.co.uk
1-6 Jun 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm Mayflower Theatre Southampton 02380 711811 www.mayflower.org.uk
8-13 Jun 7.30pm Mat Thu 2pm Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Newcastle-upon-Tyne 08448 112121 www.theatreroyal.co.uk
15-29 Jun Mon-Wed 7.30pm; Thu-Sat 8pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm Theatre Royal Bath 01225 448844 www.theatreroyal.org.uk