Tweetingit: 4* The big daddy of farce taking pot shots at Victorian social convention to great comic effect. A wonderful production showcasing the legendary wit of Oscar Wilde.
When The Importance of Being Earnest premiered in February 1895 it represented the zenith of Oscar Wilde’s career. It was also a personal nadir as his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas was exposed. Lord Alfred’s father, the Marquis of Queensbury tried to attend the first night and present him with a bouquet of rotten vegetables. He was barred from entering but the damage was already done as the play closed after 86 performances.
The subsequent trial scandalised Victorian sensibility as Wilde was convicted of gross indecency. A glittering talent was shattered as he was imprisoned for two years. His death at the painfully young age of 46 only served to heighten the work of a genius. The play itself inspired many of the modern farces written by Ray Cooney and Michael Frayn. However, they lacked the verbal dexterity of Wilde’s razor like script.
The story begins with the foppish Algernon (Fehinti Balogun) who is visited by best friend Ernest (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd). However, the latter is living something of a double life. While in the country he is serious minded John for the benefit of young ward Cecily Cardew (Fiona Button) but in London he is pleasure seeking Ernest. His alter-ego becomes a fictional brother in London on whom he must keep a watchful eye which conveniently explains his absence to Cecily. Algernon confesses to a similar scam where he visits sick friend Bunbury in the country to avoid awkward social commitments.
Ernest is in London to propose marriage to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (Pippa Nixon), but must find favour with her mother Lady Bracknell (Sophie Thompson). Jack skilfully negotiates with Lady Bracknell as the action switches to his country retreat. Algernon cannot resist making mischief as he inveigles his way into household.
A well drilled cast nail every glance, nuance and gesture of Wilde’s script. Occasionally subtle, but frequently barbed asides still get laughs in the right places for the right reasons. Sophie Thompson is in fine form as Lady Bracknell, smartly avoiding Dame Edith Evans’ portrayal as the common reference point. However, the real standout is Fiona Button who delivers a charmingly skittish performance as Cecily.
Author: Oscar Wilde
Director: Michael Fentiman
Producer: Classic Spring Theatre Company
Link to the show on Marquee TV