The Rose Theatre, Kingston – until 12th November 2022
Reviewed by Bobbi Fenton
As with all shows produced by The Rose Theatre, The Importance of Being Earnest takes a familiar favourite by Oscar Wilde and makes it even better. The Importance of Being Earnest is about two men, John Worthing (Justice Ritchie) and Algernon Moncrieff (Abiola Owokonira) and how their somewhat entangled aliases affect the people around them, leading to a lot of drama, misunderstandings, and the revelation of a huge secret. John Worthing, with the alias of ‘Earnest’ becomes engaged to Gwendolen (Adele James) much to the disagreement of Lady Bracknell (Daniel Jacob). However, when he decides to visit his ward Cecily (Phoebe Campbell) and her governess Miss Prism (Joanne Henry) to tell them that his unruly ‘Brother Earnest’ has died, Algernon decides to introduce himself to Cecily as the infamous brother ‘Earnest’. The two soon become engaged, and this causes quite the argument between Cecily and Gwendolen who both believe themselves to be engaged to ‘Earnest’. With amusing moments of ironic mirroring between the complete opposite characters Cecily and Gwendolen, we see John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff both confess to not be called Earnest, yet still remain engaged to the two women following a lot of begging. The play ends with a huge revelation about John Worthing’s family history, more specifically where he comes from and who his parents are. The biggest revelation of all being his real name that he was christened under as a baby.
Daniel Jacob’s portrayal of Lady Bracknell is wonderfully hilarious, with an almost pantomime dame essence to it, which is extremely funny paired with Justice Ritchie as John Worthing begging for permission to marry her daughter, and with Abiola Owokonira as Algernon begging for permission to marry Cecily. Not to mention the exceedingly comical performance of Valentine Hanson as the overly familiar butler Lane, and the awkward butler Merriman. I especially enjoyed one scene in which Valentine Hanson, as Merriman, is carrying increasingly heavy luggage across the stage in each direction as John tells Algernon to leave, and Algernon makes up his mind to stay.
On a more serious note, this play is a truly genius way for Director Denzel Westley-Sanderson’s vision of this play to come through, with the aim of highlighting the often-forgotten lives of rich, upper class black people in Victorian England.
This play, while using all the original language of an Oscar Wilde play, feels incredibly similar to the comedy commonly seen in sitcoms, and I especially agree with Artistic Director Christopher Haydon who compares it specifically with The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. This show is a wonderful display of how important names are, and the true importance of being Earnest.