Jack Studio Theatre – until 2 December. Reviewed by Claire Roderick
The Importance of Being Earnest is familiar material to lots of theatre goers, so seeing a new production can sometimes feel like visiting an old friend. Not much has been changed in this production, except for the addition of some musical numbers to bookend acts and scenes by a ukulele playing butler (Daniel Desiano-Plummer – who also does some pokerfaced scene stealing silent background nonsense). Dan Gillingwater’s naïve monochrome set, dominated by a giant version of Earnest’s calling card, also serves to highlight the cartoonish obsession with style and status of the characters, but apart from that, Sarah Redmond directs a traditional version of the play that allows Oscar Wilde’s scathing wit and satire to shine.
The first act, where Algie (Daniel Hall) and Earnest/John (Riley Jones) share their deceits involving imaginary brother Earnest and invalid friend Bunbury that allow them to escape their responsibilities is always slow to build, but Hall is delightfully foppish, and Jones is full of bristling energy as he changes from lovesick suitor to exasperation as things hurtle out of his control. As Lady Bracknell, Harriet Earle isn’t quite imposing enough for my tastes, she wisely underplays the handbag line, but doesn’t seem to get into full flow until the second act. It is Sophie Mercell as Gwendolen and Emily-Rose Clarkson as Cecily who dominate this production as the objects of the gentlemen’s affections. Mercell gives Gwendolen a terrifying self-assuredness, and Clarkson excels in physical comedy, adding extra girlish glee to Cecily’s words. Their performances in the scene where they first meet, and they go from polite social manners to fierce animosity as they realise that they are both engaged to Earnest are hysterical. Rounding off the cast are Scott Barclay as a suitably bumbling as Dr Chasuble, and Kate Sandison as a spiky Miss Prism.
Whilst the satire may be dated, certain issues still ring true today, and the playfulness, humour and cleverness of Wilde’s writing mean that this play is always worth revisiting. An excellent and assured production of a wonderful comedy. Well worth a look.