The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde
Bath Theatre Royal production
Theatre Royal, Newcastle, and touring

Penelope Keith as Lady Bracknell

Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest can be described as anything but simple, yet Peter Gill has clearly gone back to the drawing board for his production. Gill focuses his attention on the reality of Wilde's almost ridiculous farce - something which can sometimes be lost within the heightened situations that farce creates.

Gill leaves his set design safely in the hands of William Dudley who creates a marvellously intricate set with minimal fuss - about three flats which change between the three acts - whilst Joan Hughes and colleagues provide beautiful costumes (including a delightful array of hats and wigs) integral to the period.

It is apparent that Gill trusts his script implicitly and does not rely on any decorations such as light and sound or indeed much action to fuel this production - the fuel is the script and the great actors who speak it.

William Ellis and Harry Hadon-Paton take on the roles of Algernon and Jack with great precision, gliding through the more expositional parts with gusto and glee and never allow the energy to even wobble. Their obsessive quest for marriage is equalled by dainty Cecily (Rebecca Night) and Daisy Haggard who truly shone as the witty and intelligent Gwendolen, desperate for adventure.

The audience gasped at the sight of Penelope Keith as Lady Bracknell, donning a huge hat of purple feathers and with a tongue sharp enough to cut a diamond - truly resembling the 'gorgon' that Algernon so delicately describes (if he had indeed seen a gorgon!).

The reality which Gill and cast create is truly remarkable: the lack of stage action allows us to hear all dialogue with no joke unturned. This 'real' farce caused a few shuffles amongst audience members, some feeling cheated that Keith 'didn't make much of' the famous 'handbag' line. Yes, Penelope Keith omits any great inflection or send-up of this line, thus disappointing fans of this obviously catchphrase-obsessed generation.

Regardless, this fantastic production is not be missed and truly celebrates Wilde's masterpiece and for those who cannot survive without familiarity there is always Little Britain.

Sheila Connor reviewed this production at the Yvonne Arnaud, Guildford

Reviewer: V Mitchell

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