THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
by Oscar Wilde.
Mon-at 7.30pm Mat Thu & at 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 20min Two intervals.
TICKET: 0870 040 0046
Review: Timothy Ramsden 2 February.
Strong and thoughtful production.
Penelope Keith is obvious casting for Lady Bracknell, but Peter Gill, with his ascetic style, is less obvious to direct Oscar Wilde’s glittering play of verbal wit. The two bring out the best in each other. Keith has grande dame written into her imposing manner and her ornate full-length dresses (why no costume designer credited?).
The surprising softness of her vocal tone, her willingness to respond to others, make her human, rather than a glacial mouthpiece. She laughs at her nephew Algernon’s jokes, has concern over what the French Revolution led to and shows in her dark displeasure at finding Jack Worthing with Algy that she is concerned who her family mixes with.
And she passes the Handbag test. Thankfully, this is no longer an auto-pilot laugh for audiences. Keith builds to a big laugh on the climactic line that “the (railway) line is immaterial”. It’s a laugh echoed in act three when everyone learns just how material the line actually is.
Gill’s casting ensures that Algernon’s line about all girls coming to resemble their mothers has meaning. Daisy Haggard’s profile (sorry, profeel, one of two restored Victorian pronunciations) follows her mother’s, as does her soft-toned assertion. Rebecca Knight’s fair young Cecily contrasts Gwendolen’s social poise with a natural poise that still expresses opinions, and sugars tea, pointedly.
And the production neatly differentiates the urban and rural serving-classes. Not through crudely contrasted urbanity in Algy’s London man Lane and clumping rural idiocy with Cecily’s rural Merriman. Instead, Maxwell Hutcheon’s imperturbable Lane continues arranging objects neatly as conversation carries on around him: the perfect servant in front of whom one can talk regardless. But Roger Swaine’s Merriman and his two fellows register Cecily’s way with tea and cake, running for cover before Gwendolen discovers all.
Add the distinction between William Ellis’s poised Algernon and Harry Hadden-Paton’s Jack, mostly keeping up with his friend’s style but occasionally showing the effort, and here’s an intelligent, colourful revival. Both qualities are enhanced by William Dudley’s settings, moving from Algernon’s rich, gold décor through mellow rustic brickwork to a country interior dominated by a hunting-scene.
Lane: Maxwell Hutcheon.
Algernon Moncrieff: William Ellis.
John Worthing: Harry Hadden-Paton.
Lady Bracknell: Penelope Keith.
Gwendolen Fairfax: Daisy Haggard.
Miss Prism: Janet Henfrey.
Cecily Cardew: Rebecca Night.
Rev Canon Chasuble: Tim Wylton.
Merriman: Roger Swaine.
Footmen: Gay Fairhall, George Turvey.
Director: Peter Gill.
Designer: William Dudley.
Lighting: Stephen Wentworth.
Sound: Mike Beer for Stage Sound Services.
Assistant director: Tom Littler.