“I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone. The whole theory of modern education is radically unsound. Fortunately in England, at any rate, education produces no effect whatsoever.” – Lady Bracknell.
In a time rife with confusion, uncertainty and disappointment – being earnest always has, and will continue to be, important. It appears Lady Bracknell is telling us that education in England is leading us nowhere or that, in some certain cases, we are going around in circles with our opinion of it. Indeed the current state of affairs in England is being presented to us as unappealing and unwelcome, whether you are for or against the major changes we have recently decided upon (I’m sure Brexit does not need to come into the conversation).
Oscar Wilde’s tale of two ladies who fall in love with two gentlemen who refer to themselves as ‘Bunburyists’ – not the men they say they are or, more importantly, the men they want them to be – is relevant to today’s audience. We continue to aspire to be the person society pressures us into thinking we should be, thus creating a new persona (Earnest) in order to live up to those demands. But it is, as Wilde shows us, more valuable to be true to oneself in the face of adversity.
Whilst this production maintained a loyal connection with Wilde’s original telling of the story, the cast have successfully captured the essence of why this play is still so well adored by the English audiences today. The strength of the performances allowed the audience to be fully immersed into Wilde’s world – a nostalgic look back at why we use humour to get us through times of trouble. Thomas Howes portrays Algernon with energy and an eccentric flamboyancy that is crucial to keeping the audience engaged. Although it may have found itself at times to be dialogue-heavy, the relationships that we witness manifest and evolve; meaning the audience remained engaged and entertained throughout.
The fantastically awkward coupling of Rev. Chasuble (Geoff Aymer) and Miss Prism (Susan Penhaligon) was a particular highlight, as their blossoming romance in the second act was presented with an unspoken subtly (or as Lady Bracknell would call it, a ‘natural ignorance’) that pulled your attention their way. This cast showed no signs of weakness and this, as Alastair Whatley (Artistic Director of The Original Theatre Company) writes, “celebration for celebration’s sake” of The Importance of Being Earnest was charming, warm and true.
There were brief moments where the company developed on Wilde’s piece, such as using non-diegetic music to open each act. It would have benefitted the performance to include more creative moments like this, to break the mould of what is a play that is very familiar to its audience. This particular production will please fans of Wilde and the story itself, but it may fall short of exciting newcomers. What the company did do, however, was find a way
to show Wilde’s play in the way it was intended; being both amusing and thought-provoking in a delightfully fulfilling way. It is a tough ask to take risks on such a well know story, but the show remained safe and easy on the eye for the audience; something which is not necessarily desired. By pushing the modern world into Wilde’s story delicately, the audience could have taken away more than just a warm feeling of satisfaction and gone
home considering their own position in the establishment – an ideal Wilde was working so hard to satirise.
Why this performance was so successful, however, was that it was effortlessly witty. The entire cast were in synch and the distinction between each character meant each moment of comedic insight was different from the last – a real credit to the work put in by each actor. If only they had asked more of the audience and for them to question what Wilde was saying, rather than simply presenting to us his ideas. After all, “The truth is rarely pure and never simple” – Algenon.
Review by James Evans
Oscar Wilde’s greatly admired and much-loved comedy THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST follows Jack Worthing’s endeavours to marry Algernon’s cousin, the beautiful Gwendolen. But first, he must convince the fearsome Lady Bracknell of his respectability. Wilde’s classic play looks at the clash of town and country in a story of romance, identity, perambulators and capacious handbags.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST will be directed by The Original Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Alastair Whatley, with set and costume designs by Gabriella Slade, sound and music by Giles Thomas and lighting by Alan Valentine. The UK tour is produced by Tom Hackney for The Original Theatre Company.
The Importance of Being Earnest
24 January – 3 February 2018
Guildford 01483 440000