‘Bunburying’, handbags and cucumber sandwiches abound in this new version of Oscar Wilde’s famous play The Importance of Being Earnest. From the second the curtain rose on this elaborate and hilarious production, the audience knew it was in for a treat.
Directed by former RSC Executive Director, Adrian Noble, and starring ‘Poirot’ actor David Suchet as the formidable Lady Bracknell, the play satirically explores late nineteenth-century society. The plot revolves around the farcical comedy of errors of two well-bred young men’s attempts – through any means – to win the hearts, and hands of the women they love. Through parental intrusions, mistaken identity and a love of muffins, Wilde’s script delights in exposing the hypocrisy of the Victorian age, leaving the audience in peals of laughter in the process.
“David Suchet commanded the stage as the play’s overbearing matriarch”
Undoubtedly, the reason many theatre goers attended this production was because of the leading man – or lady, I should say. Resplendent in full corset, feathered hat and perfectly coiffed hair, David Suchet commanded the stage as the play’s overbearing matriarch. The character of Lady Bracknell, one of the finest in English literature, appeared to have been written especially for Suchet, who delivered Wilde’s witty put-downs with skill and exceptional comic timing. The other cast members were equally as strong, Michael Benz portraying a strict and straight-laced John Worthing, whilst Philip Cumbus’ Algernon Moncrieff was a true dandy, reckless and constantly hungry. The Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax, played by Emily Barber, presented a wonderfully icy and elegant portrayal of the role – implying that Gwendolen would indeed end up like her mother, Lady Bracknell, ‘in about a hundred years’.
In truth, this production was so comic and had so many highlights that it is impossible to name them all. However, one of the most striking was the developing relationship between Cecily’s governess, Miss Prism (Michelle Dotrice) and the bumbling Rev. Canon Chasuble (Richard O’Callaghan). Their flustered nature whenever they encountered one another was comic genius, and ensured the audience was invested in the lives and fates of even the minor characters. Imogen Doel’s inspired interpretation of the character Cecily Cardew was a stand-out performance, and she had true chemistry with her beau, Algernon. Overall, however, Wilde’s celebrated script, with its notorious one-liners and quotable phrases was the true star of the show. The lines were delivered with speed and skill – gems such as ‘If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life’ performed by the cast to their full comic potential.
“Wilde’s celebrated script, with its notorious one-liners and quotable phrases was the true star of the show”
The set and general mise-en-scene of the production were naturalistic and finely detailed, the audience feeling as though they were transported to Algernon’s flat, John’s country garden and the interior of his Manor house in turn. The costumes were equally lavish, from Lady Bracknell in her detailed silk, to the lowest footman’s sharp uniform, adding to the sense of 19th century luxury the play creates.
Overall, this new production of The Importance of Being Earnest was quite simply one of the funniest plays, with one of the most talented casts, I have seen in a long time. If you have the chance to see this play – go! You certainly won’t be disappointed!