This comedy classic that the author described as ‘a trivial comedy for serious people’ which, under all the witty wordplay, is an attack on the hypocrisy and double standards prevalent in the society of the day clearly irking Wilde. Hardly a surprise, given the tragedy that consequently engulfed him…
But that isn’t what caught my husband’s attention and prompted him to rush to the computer and book these seats as soon as he got home from work – it was the cast list. It’s not often you can get to see the likes of Rosalind Ayres, Martin Jarvis, Siȃn Phillips, Nigel Havers, Niall Buggy, Cherie Lunghi and Patrick Godfrey all in the same production…
Hm. But the heart of this play is a mix-up over names preventing two young men about town getting together with the girls of their dreams – and let’s face it, while all the cast wear their years well, not one of them have seen their thirties in a while. How are they going to play the love scenes written for twenty-somethings without looking ridiculous?
There is a nifty play within a play, whereby the cast play an amateur dramatic group, The Bunbury Company of Players, who revisit one of their favourite and most successful productions – The Importance of Being Earnest. The actual performance is played as one of the final run-throughs they perform in the lounge of George and Lavina’s sitting room – played by Patrick Godfrey and Siȃn Phillips. The set is beautiful – a far cry from modern stark staging where clever lighting makes up for the absence of props and furniture – where the room is dressed in the arts and crafts style, with loving attention to detail. The direction by Lucy Bailey was sure-footed, allowing each actor to play to their strengths without undercutting or distracting from the original narrative.
Simon Brett wrote the ‘Bunbury’ additions to the play – and while I am sure there will be some dubious headshaking by the purists, I thoroughly enjoyed the extra layer of humour he added. He could so easily have overcooked it, but didn’t… And it meant that when Martin Jarvis as Algernon confessed to being twenty-nine, he got a huge laugh. Though nothing compared with the delighted roar from the audience when Lady Bracknell (Siȃn Phillips) delivered the ‘handbag’ line.
The cast were clearly having a wonderful time – and everyone’s performance was pitch perfect, as you’d expect from a cast of this calibre. I watched with delight, conscious that a classic was being given a respectful makeover by artists with the experience and skill to produce something very special. This is a night at the theatre I am going to remember for a long time – for all the right reasons.