THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
by Oscar Wilde.
New Wolsey Theatre Civic Drive IP1 2AS To 9 October 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Wed & Sat 2.30pm.
Audio-described 9 Oct 2.30pm.
Captioned 6 Oct 7.45pm.
Runs 2hr 20min One interval.
TICKETS: 01473 295900.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 September.
This is a good production for anyone new to Oscar Wilde’s comedy, or returning to it after some time. Some first-act glitches apart (probably sorted by now) it flows smoothly and clearly. There may not be the subtleties of some productions, but nor are there the over-assertive vulgarities of others. And director Ellie Jones has certainly thought about the characters.
Wilde’s servant-class has received close attention in recent productions. Jones doubles London man-servant Lane with country butler Merriman. Matthew Woodyatt’s Lane is the same generation as Algernon and has a suitable metropolitan suavity. But instead of becoming, as so often, a bumpkin, Woodyatt’s Merriman is an awkward young fellow, nervously eager to please, bunched into formal dress, stooping under the weight of responsibility.
The other interesting interpretation is Ishia Bennison’s Miss Prism. She’s definitely someone whose employment as Cecily’s tutor has taken her up in the world (possibly bringing her down from the north too). Growing plump and clearly feeling the heat, she’s someone on whom advancing age is leaving its mark.
Mind you, she doesn’t get out much. Staging limitations mean the central, garden act is set in a kind of conservatory, the walls of the outer acts’ interiors remaining as vistas of flowers are revealed behind and within them. It’s a pity not to be properly outside, but understandable. Less so is the decision to take the single interval during act two. Yes, this is a conflation of two acts in Wilde’s original version, but it flows smoothly and there seemed evident difficulty picking-up the pace after a mid-act break.
Lizzy McInnerny follows the fashion for younger, more vulnerable Lady Bracknells, more likely to be subdued than outraged by the famous handbag, but rightly realising the punch-line here is “immaterial”. (This de-dragonising can go too far, and if the character continues this way she is in danger of ending-up formidable through her past reputation rather than present performances.)
Michael Fenton Stevens, adorned in clerical vestments, is an amusing Chasuble, and with four lively performances from the young people in love, this is a production Ipswich can Earnestly enjoy.
Lane/Merriman: Matthew Woodyatt.
Algernon Moncrieff: Mark Edel-Hunt.
John Worthing JP: Tom Davey.
Lady Bracknell: Lizzy McInnerny.
Hon Gwendolen Fairfax: Esther Ruth Elliott.
Miss Prism: Ishia Bennison.
Cecily Cardew: Nelly Harker.
Rev Canon Chasuble DD: Michael Fenton Stevens.
Director: Ellie Jones.
Designer: Dawn Allsopp.
Lighting: Tim Mascall.
Sound: Thor McIntyre-Burnie.