The Importance of Being Earnest
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
The lines of this play are known to all, Nick Clegg was just last week telling us we have to call a spade a spade. However, despite knowing the play inside out, or so I thought, I found myself in the weird situation of discovering new lines and, even more surprising, new characters in this production. Was my memory really that bad?
Although to all appearances this at first seemed a very ordinary production, Jack (Ben Derry) and Algernon (Will Featherstone) in nice pale suits gorging on cucumber sandwiches and bread and butter before Lady Bracknell (Alexandra Mathie) enters in a flurry of black, purple and haughty pride, it's the same look but a different script. This production uses Wilde's original slightly longer version.
The original script was four acts; here Mark Thomson has used material from the four act version although kept it to three acts still (three is company), and this includes the resurrection of the solicitor Mr Gribsby. The play is already quite prophetic with Jack saying that his unfortunate brother has died in Paris and is to be buried there. Gribsby has come to take Ernest Worthing away to Holloway Prison for the debts he owes - the gaol Wilde was imprisoned during his trial.
Adding to a much loved play could be a mistake. In this case though it certainly doesn't seem any longer nor does it affect the humour; it just makes the play a little darker. It is, after all, not a modern updating and is still entirely composed of Wilde's wonderful dialogue.
With this production the diva aspect of many of the characters is quite pronounced. The bitchy almost schoolgirl manner of several of the characters is what seems at times to be the driving force of the action, from Jack and Algernon fighting over the cigarette case, to uber-diva Aunt Augusta and her daughter Gwendolen (Melody Grove), a chip off the old block flaunting their power for trivial ends; cucumber sandwiches, marriage to men called Ernest.
Featherstone and Grove are particularly adept at making the most of their diva moments and though you have heard the lines many times before, the feeling of indignation they bring to them keeps the wit very much alive.
Even with the additions to the script the cast certainly keep the play zipping along, plenty of laughs, some like "JACK: I am a Liberal Unionist. LADY BRACKNELL: Oh, they count as Tories." gains extra appreciation from the audience, and prove that while Nick Clegg may fail to make use of Earnest, Earnest can most certainly make use of him.
Until 20th November
Reviewer: Seth Ewin