Latest Review – The Importance of Being Earnest [Vaudeville Theatre] [More2Screen]

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

Vaudeville Theatre, London

Until Saturday 7 November, 2015

Try as I might I can’t recall many plays which are revived quite as frequently as Oscar Wilde’s glorious comedy of manners, however on the strength of last night’s perfomance it reaffirmed my belief that this biting critique of Victorian society (‘A Trivial Comedy for Serious People’ as it is officially subtitled) is still a masterpiece, no matter how many times one has sat through it.

In a nutshell the play centres around two young bachelor friends, idle playboy Algernon Moncrieff and the foppish but reliable John (Jack) Worthing J.P., both leading double lives in order to escape their dreary lives and respectively court the attentions Algernon’s cousin Gwendolyn Fairfax (Jack) and Jack’s young ward Cecily Cardew (Algernon). However, to get what they desire they must first grapple with the farcical consequences of their deceptions, and, of course, Algernon’s aunt, the formidable Lady Bracknell.

Of course David Suchet’s gender-swapping turn as the formidable Lady Bracknell is the main draw here, and he yet again proves a master of the stage, dominating the space rather than just entering it and delivering a perfomance fused with intelligence and masterful comic timing, refreshingly skirting over the most notable ‘Bracknell cliches’ and highlighting minute character traits which are often overlooked. Considering this is a role coveted by many older female actors – and a role that has of course in the past been performed by such acting titans as Dames Edith Evans, Maggie Smith and Judi Dench – it is perhaps a very controversial piece of casting, however in the current theatrical climate cross-gender acting seems to be happening more and more frequently.

However as commanding as Suchet is, Bracknell is absent for large portions of the play, and in fact for the entire duration of the second act, and this is very much an ensemble piece, resting primarily in the capable hands of it’s central quartet of young leads. RSC and Globe regulars Michael Benz and Philip Cumbus make for a star double act as John and Algernon, with Emily Barber and Imogen Doel equally impressive as Gwendolen and Cecily. Then of course we have the older brigade, with Michele Dotrice, Richard O’Callaghan, David Killick and Brendan Hooper all hamming it up to perfection and adding a welcome dash of experience and maturity to the piece.

It would be far too difficult to pick out a production highlight as this revival is filled with them; from Bracknell’s interview (or should that be survey) with prospective suitor ‘Ernest’ to the meeting of Gwendolen and Cecily, Prism and Chasuble’s awkward first encounter, Jack and Algernon’s hilarious squabble over buttered muffins and the final realisation of Jack’s true identity, this is a joyous and endearing production from start to finish.

Beautifully designed by Peter McKinstosh this revival again proves that simplicity and sophistication is best. Adrian Noble’s charming production fully allows Wilde’s sparkling wit and florid text to take centre stage, unimpaired by any unnecessary visuals or staging devices.

Vigorously performed, elegantly staged and rattling along at a breathless pace this is a joyous masterclass in how this play should always be presented.

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Running Time:

Act I – Algernon’s Morning Room, London [37 minutes]

Interval [15 minutes]

Act II – The Garden at Jack’s Countryside Home [50 minutes]

Interval [15 minutes]

Act III – The Library at Jack’s Countryside Home [31 minutes]

[Total: 2 hours and 27 minutes, approx.]

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Final Performance at the Vaudeville Theatre, London: Saturday 7 November, 2015.

For more information and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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