THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
by Oscar Wilde.
Library Theatre St Peter’s Square M2 5PD To 3 July 2010.
Mon-Thu 7.30pm Fri-Sat 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Audio-described 1 July 7.30pm 3 July 3pm.
BSL Signed 24 June 7.30pm.
Captioned 2 July.
Runs 2hr 35min Two intervals.
TICKETS: 0161 236 7110.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 10 June.
In their end is their beginning.
In 1952 Manchester’s new-formed Library Theatre company opened their first season with Oscar Wilde’s comedy. Now it round the theatre’s history as Artistic Director Chris Honer’s lively revival is the final production in the basement auditorium.
Honer adopts a couple of ploys occasionally used in modern productions. Doubling Algernon’s town butler Lane with Merriman, the country servant, emphasises the contrast between London assurance and rural stolidity.
Especially when Leigh Symonds’ youthful Lane, hair carefully styled, is doubtless employed for his appearance as much as his tray-carrying, and makes visible the alleged drinking of the best wine. Contrasting such urban confidence, his bald Merriman is tired-out by luggage-hauling and steals fearfully away before Gwendolen discovers the teatime-trick played upon her.
Then there’s the cross-casting of Lady Bracknell. Bette Bourne remains probably the finest male actor in the role, though Russell Dixon, who can do splenetic like few others, runs him/her a close second, confounding expectations with a Lady B who is remarkably, sometimes too consistently, restrained.
But it’s a valid view of someone who started penniless and made her way into the Society which, as she says, is spoken ill of only by those who can’t get into it, while she often comments upon reputations and appearances.
In Society, she is quietly assured until she comes across something unexpected. Dixon’s Bracknell shows puzzlement at Jack’s revelations and can only mumble the famous “handbag” line, rightly retaining the explosion till “The line is immaterial”.
Judith Croft’s set decorates its basic structure to create Algernon’s fashionable town apartment and the more traditional country settings. Fine performances contrast Natalie Grady’s Gwendolen and Florence Hall’s equally assertive but country-naïve Cecily, while Malcolm James is the very model of a Victorian rural clergyman, who has, and knows, his place.
Simon Harrison’s Jack suggest someone ultimately respectable but trying to keep up with his fashionable friend, a look of puzzlement undermining his professed knowledge of Shropshire. And Olwen May’s Miss Prism is younger than most. Clearly as bored as Cecily with the stuff she’s teaching, this Prism is someone aware she still has a future to fill.
Lane/Merriman: Leigh Symonds.
Algernon Moncrieff: Alex Felton.
John Worthing: Simon Harrison.
Lady Bracknell: Russell Dixon.
Gwendolen Fairfax: Natalie Grady.
Miss Prism: Olwen May.
Cecily Cardew: Florence Hall.
Rev Canon Chasuble: Malcolm James.
Director: Chris Honer.
Designer: Judith Croft.
Lighting: Nick Richings.
Sound: Paul Gregory.
Composer: Richard Taylor.
Assistant director: Katie Lewis.