The Importance of Being Earnest

Fri 18th – Sat 19th November 2011

reviews

Marion Pragt

at 12:39 on 19th Nov 2011

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The opening night of ‘The Performance of Being Earnest’ begins in style. The play is set in a dim drawing-room in the presence of two gentlemen and an abundance of cucumber sandwiches. Jack Worthing is brilliantly played by James Amey, who aptly expresses his character’s affectation and generous humour. Simon Woodcock’s Algernon Moncrieff with his witticisms is a good match for him. Sometimes, the actors stumble a little through their lines, while several sentences – including a line as well-known as: “Ah! that must be Aunt Augusta. Only relatives, or creditors, ever ring in that Wagnerian manner.” – are left out entirely. Nevertheless, as the play advances both men provoke a few well-deserved laughs.

Lady Bracknell (Annie Pepper) has a quite few comments to make on the developing relationships between Jack and Gwendolen (Zoey Gilbert), and Algernon and Cecily (Eleanor Virgo). Called a Gorgon by Jack, one is happy to notice Lady Bracknell actually is never too forceful in her indignation and often retains a certain playfulness, perhaps rather like the Dowager Countess in 'Downton Abbey'.

As the men rightly predict, once the confusion about the nature of Ernest seems to be cleared, their respective fiancées do call each other sisters, after having called each other a lot of other things too. Both actresses, however, admirably manage to express their characters' distinct personalities, something which is not often seen in performances of this play. Gwendolen, coquettish and determined, resembles her mother in more than hair colour alone, whereas Virgo’s Cecily, utterly charming, silly and played with a natural elegance, is a delight to watch.

Director Sabrina Poole made the promising decision of setting the play in the 1920s. The music played at the beginning and in between scene changes was well-chosen as were a few changes in the script’s cultural references. These include, amongst others, referring to the Russian instead of the French revolution and Lady Bracknell supporting French songs at her dinner parties, while discouraging the use of German ones, rather than the other way round. Together with several other remarks, this makes a zeitgeisty anti-German sentiment palpable. There is, however, a sense of randomness too, as other references, including one to the fall of the Rupee at the end of the 19th century, curiously remain intact. Though certainly an interesting and playful way of looking at this much performed Victorian play, one wonders whether choosing to set it in a decade lying so close to the play’s première in 1895 can offer a fresh interpretation which goes beyond the adding of occasional references and songs. However, the acting, unaffected by this, is wonderful at all times.

As the end of the play approaches, the couples fall into each other’s arms, with this show having the lovely addition of both butlers embracing each other as well, which leaves Lady Bracknell to deliver a last indignant remark, commenting on the signs of triviality around her.

With the successful performance of ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ in the ADC Theatre earlier this term and ‘An Ideal Husband’ to be performed soon, it proves to be a good time of the year for Oscar Wilde. Meanwhile, this delightful interpretation of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ enchants its audience with a witty and charming performance in which style is indeed the vital thing.

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