The Importance Of Being Earnest

Posted on: 22 February 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Penelope Keith stars in The Importance of Being Earnest.

'A trivial comedy for serious people' is how Oscar Wilde's most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest was once described and this long enduring work has made a welcome return to the London stage in a sparkling new revival directed by Peter Gill at the Vaudeville Theatre.

Prim-and-proper Jack Worthing is in love with the equally prim-and-proper Gwendolen Fairfax. His friend, Algernon Moncrieff, is in love with Jack's ward Cecily Cardew. But both Gwendolen and Cecily are in love with Ernest - the name that is. Add the magnificently imposing Lady Bracknell and a nanny with a dubious story about a misplaced handbag and you have the ingredients for a classic comedy with extraordinary twists of fate.

The triumph of Peter Gill's production lies in its attention to detail, the way in which every character comes full alive rather than merely acting as a mouthpiece for the playwright and, equally importantly, the way in which Wilde's dazzling wit seems fresher and funnier than ever. Indeed the brilliance of Wilde's epigrams, such as "I can resist everything except temptation," here seems newly minted and still able to strike a chord or two with a modern audience, while the clever inversion of clichés such as, "In married life three is company, two is none," carries with it a striking topicality.

The Importance Of Being EarnestGill's staging, which is delicately poised between frivolity and seriousness, feels true to the spirit of Wilde's elegant work. Furthermore the production never dawdles or appears heavy handed as has happened with past stagings.

The 'star' of this production is undoubtedly Penelope Keith as Lady Bracknell, a role she was born to play, delivering Wilde's rapier wit with style and authority. But the rest of the cast also acquit themselves splendidly. Daisy Haggard makes a fine Gwendolen, so that when she smiles at her fiancé it is like a shark weighing up its prey. Rebecca Night is a pretty, airheaded Cecily with, nevertheless, a determination to catch her man at all costs. Harry Hadden-Paton brings a mounting petulance and panic to the role of Jack that is quite touching, while William Ellis has just the right blend of snobbery and vulnerability as Algernon.

William Dudley provides sumptuous sets, whether it be Algernon's well furnished flat in Half Moon Street or the garden and morning-room at the Manor House, Woolton, on which the hostilities and skirmishes of Victorian high society are enacted.

In all then this 113-year-old comedy appears all set to win over a new generation of theatregoers.

Plays until 26th April 2008.

By Laurence Green

Booking Information

Box office: 0844 412 4663 or 0870 040 0084.

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