Whenever I hear the piano played just slightly off-key, as Algernon Moncrieff (Murray Deans) does in The Importance of Being Earnest, it brings to mind the late great Les Dawson tinkering the ivories in such a way that made a tune sound awful but still recognisable. It is, I am reliably informed, more difficult to play in this manner than it is to play ‘normally’, and as ‘Algy’ points out, “Anyone can play accurately.”
‘Anyone’, is of course, to be taken with a pinch of salt – I don’t include myself in that ‘anyone’, as the only keys I can press with any competence are the ones on a computer keyboard, which partly explains why I ended up a reviewer and not, for instance, a musical director.
Anyway, even if I couldn’t place the accent of Deans’ Moncrieff in anywhere more specific than ‘the wealthy’, it’s an unmistakably clear delivery of each and every line. Clarity runs through this particular cast, and there was never a moment when I missed what anyone said, let alone rely on previous knowledge of this popular and often-performed play. Parts of it are of its time – few, I imagine, would really care these days if Miss Prism (Karen Walker) bore a child whilst unmarried; fewer still would, unless undergoing a full blown religious conversion, petition Canon Chasuble (Ian Recordon) to conduct baptisms just to be sure. (Sure of what exactly, is to the best of my recollection, never fully detailed.)
I am, as those familiar with the play will have gathered, skirting around the central storyline that the play is known for. I now redress the balance: both Moncrieff and John Worthing (Bernard Brennan), who sometimes also goes by Jack, end up becoming respective items with Gwendolen Fairfax (Helen McGill) and Cecily Cardew (Imogen de Ste Croix), but only because both ladies have, separately, developed a penchant for the name Ernest. Moncrieff and Worthing both end up using the alias Ernest for reasons known to those who know the play, and are left best unexplained here for those who haven’t.
The style of humour is rather hammy but it grew on me over time. The cool collectedness of Lane (Richard Kirby), butler to Moncrieff, contrasted well with the more panicked approach adopted by Merriman (Nigel Oram), butler to Cecily. But it’s Lady Bracknell (Helen McCormack) who steals the show, with viewpoints that were probably outmoded even in Oscar Wilde’s era let alone today. The larger than life authoritarian comes out with statements that are, taken together, on the verge of satirising the apparent ignorance of the English nobility. And with a steely glare like that, if there ever were to be a stage adaptation of the motion picture The Iron Lady, I’d suggest McCormack be put forward to play Baroness Thatcher.
This is classic Oscar Wilde wit performed with gusto in this faithful rendering. There are so many quotable lines in a truly magnificent script. The set in this show is gorgeous, with highly different atmospheres created for a townhouse and a country residence. As ever with The Importance of Being Ernest, details that are seemingly negligible when they are first spoken become most relevant as the play draws to a close. A lively and fun production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
The Importance of Being Earnest, first performed in 1895, is a comedy in which the protagonists invent false identities in order to escape familial and social responsibilities. Widely considered to be Oscar Wilde’s most enduringly popular play, The Importance of Being Earnest is a marvellous masterpiece that mercilessly satirises Victorian moral attitudes with a wit and style that can only be Wilde.
In 1895, The Importance of Being Earnest was met with largely positive reviews, although some critics were wary of the play’s lack of explicit social message. Today, the triviality with which Wilde treats serious Victorian institutions, such as marriage, is considered to be one of the play’s greatest charms, as well as its unforgettable characters, hilarious witticisms and high farce.
The Importance of Being Earnest has been revived many times since its premiere. It has been adapted for the cinema on three occasions. Last performed by the Tower 18 years ago, Wilde’s classic comedy returns for a one week run at the Bridewell before touring to the United States in April 2017 for a ten-day tour to the Gorton Theatre, Gloucester, Massachusetts… Do not miss your chance to see only one of six London performances, book today to avoid disappointment.
The Tower Theatre Company Presents
The Importance of Being Earnest
By Oscar Wilde
Directed by Martin Mulgrew
Evenings at 7.30pm
Tuesday 28th February – Saturday 4th March
Matinée at 3.00pm Saturday 4th March
The Tower Theatre performing at
The Bridewell, off Fleet Street.