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The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
(2004)

Braham Murray's production of Wilde's most famous play succeeds in bringing out all of the wonderful comedy, from the big belly laughs to the clever witticisms that only sink in after a moment's thought. Although the play's setting and the look of the set belong very firmly to late-Victorian upper class society, the delivery and much of the content of the dialogue seems very contemporary; in fact many of the lines would not seem out of place in a modern sit-com, apart from being much funnier than most sit-com gags.

Murray has assembled a very competent cast who all manage to put across Wilde's often-complex witty lines effortlessly. Ian Shaw is excellent as Jack Worthing, in a permanent state of bewilderment until he manages to take back control towards the end from the scheming Algernon (Jamie de Courcey) and the controlling Lady Bracknell (Gabrielle Drake). Joanna David is a superb Miss Prism, forming a very funny double act with John Watts as Reverend Canon Chasuble. Laura Rees plays Cecily Cardew, with a lot of face-pulling, as a grotesque parody of an eight-year-old tomboy, which sometimes gets the laughs and at other times becomes a little irritating. Johanna Bryant's impressive scenery designs set the scenes well and require two full intervals to change between acts.

When a play becomes labelled a "classic" and appears on examination syllabuses, it is easy to forget how enjoyable and funny it can be. This fresh, accessible production produced plenty of belly laughs and the occasional round of applause on the press night, and will no doubt continue to do so, deservedly, for the remainder of its run.

"The Importance of Being Earnest" runs until 7th August 2004

Reviewer: David Chadderton