In theatreland, the term “re-imagining” is a tricky beast, filling one with an uncomfortable mixture of hope and dread. If done well, it can breathe new life into a hackneyed production. If not, as is unfortunately often the case, you leave the theatre determined to hunt down the director and yell at him: “Why?? Why did you mess with it? Just leave it alone!!”
Thankfully, LKT Productions’ reimagining of the Oscar Wilde classic The Importance of Being Earnest falls squarely into the former camp. Their blunt, earthy, ever-so-northern re-imagining doesn’t just breathe new life into the play; it grabs it by the scruff of the neck, hauls it to its feet and gives it a good kicking. To hear a theatre full of jaded press, most of whom could recite the play in their sleep, howling with laughter truly is a thing of wonder.
And here’s the great thing; LKT didn’t meddle with the script. Or not much, anyway. Apart from a few small cheeky alterations and omissions, including the brilliant decision to delete the word ‘revolution’ from the end of a sentence, the lines spoken were almost exactly as written. So it wasn’t the pleasure of novel language that had the audience laughing; everything was in the delivery.
The transposition of the story from the genteel drawing rooms of Victorian London to a 90s council estate in northern England was an inspired idea. The cleverly adaptable set is gloriously tacky and insalubrious, bringing an air of louche depravity to the proceedings. The upbeat, punchy Yorkshire delivery gives a raw energy to the lines that is sometimes lacking in other productions, and the simmering tensions, rather than being repressively stifled, always feel here as though they are on the brink of spilling over into actual violence. Indeed, on a couple of occasions they do so, with very entertaining results. Of course, the fact that the script is unchanged means that a few details make no sense at all – for example, why are Algernon’s flatmate and Jack’s neighbour willing to be treated like servants? How did it come to pass that this mob should be hanging out with Lady and Lord so-and-so? And since when have the terms “cucumber sandwiches” and “bread and butter” been euphemisms for illegal narcotics? Yet somehow, and I cannot stress this enough – it doesn’t matter. The whole production is so delightfully ridiculous that each added layer of nonsense only adds to the general joy.
Directors Luke Adamson and Toby Hampton are clearly not the kind of people to let an opportunity for laughter pass them by, and the script has been ferociously wrung to obtain every last drop of fun that was to be had. This means that, in addition to Wilde’s delicious satire, we have an extra level of physical comedy to enjoy. All of the cast rise to the challenge with gusto, but it is the characters of Merriman and Lane, both played by James King, that have benefitted most from this technique.
Silent comedy suits King; a disapproving sip from a teacup and a furiously folded newspaper are, in his hands, pure gold. Director Adamson plays Algernon as a lager-swilling playboy, and his hyper antics and machine-gun patter are ferociously entertaining. Joshua Welch is a marvellously hapless Jack, utterly in thrall to Heather Dutton’s merciless bruiser of a Gwendolyn. Kitty Martin gives a convincing performance as mob matriarch Lady Bracknell, and Janna Fox and Rob Pomfret, as the lecherous Miss Prism and equally lecherous Dr Chasuble respectively, are very enjoyable. For me, though, it was Millie Gaston as Cecily who was the real eye-opener. Cecily’s part is often leeched into near transparency by the stronger characters around her, but Millie’s sassy, teenage chav was colourful, charismatic and caustic and a real delight to watch.
Eavesdropping on other audience members after the show has given me a new term, which I like very much – “Off-Wilde”. While the setting of this play is definitely “Off-Wilde”, the flamboyant, anarchic, tongue-in-cheek ethos of the show is pretty much as “On-Wilde” as you can get. I think the great man would have enjoyed it very much.
Review by Genni Trickett
Jack loves Gwendolen, Gwendolen loves Ernest, Algy loves Cecily, Cecily loves Ernest, Gwendolen’s Ernest is Jack, Cecily’s Ernest is Algy and who on Earth is Burnbury!?
LKT Productions’ vivid reimagining of everyone’s favourite classic comedy relocates the action from Victorian London to a Yorkshire Council estate. The muscularity of the Yorkshire accent breathes new life into those famous lines and the reconfigured social structure offers a brand new examination of class.
Gone are the starched collars and cups of tea, in are the Leeds United football shirts and cans of Stella. Wilde meets Shameless in this exciting new production that promises to be one not to miss!
Th’Importance of Bein’ Earnest
By Oscar Wilde. Revised by Luke Adamson.
Tuesday February 5 – Saturday February 23, 7:30pm
Press performance Thursday February 7, 7.30pm
Directed by Toby Hampton & Luke Adamson
Set and costume design by Rachael Ryan
Lighting design by Frank Turnball
TH’IMPORTANCE OF BEIN’ EARNEST
By Oscar Wilde
Revised by Luke Adamson
Directed by Toby Hampton & Luke
Set & costume design by Rachael Ryan
Lighting design by Frank Turnball
Drayton Arms Theatre
153 Old Brompton Road,
London, SW5 0LJ
Tuesday February 5 – Saturday