Tag Archives: play review

Review of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde at the Theatre Royal, Brighton


Martin-JarvisThis 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 weearnest2ar 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.

earnest1Simon 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.

Review of the play The Acid Test by Anya Reiss, at the Royal Court Theatre, London


Dana, Ruth and Jess down shots to console the heart-broken, to comfort the anxious and just pass the time. Kicked out from the family home Jess’s Dad, Jim, invades the party with just as much recklessness as the girls. As the night passes and vodka bottles are emptied, Friday night in becomes high drama.

acidtestcastThis play, set in the living room of the girls’ flat is surrounded by the small audience on three sides which always poses additional opportunities and problems in equal measure in the staging and acting. The set, designed by Paul Willis, starts at the top of the theatre stairs as the audience troops along a scruffy corridor, complete with a row of doors and told to ‘keep going through the door of number 11’. The living room set is dressed with all sorts of enjoyable little details – including the Harry Potter book and a cheese and chives tube of Pringles… It is a suitable backdrop for one night’s emotional maelstrom – Ruth has a quarrel with her boyfriend; Dana makes a disastrous decision regarding her boss and Jess brings her father back to the flat, where drink and pot lower inhibitions revealing fault lines in each character’s lives. The result is both hilarious and poignant.

Even the excessive swearing works – and I’m no fan of strings of curse words instead of sharp, witty dialogue. But this tendency is examined during the drunken exchanges – along with the rest of their lives. What 19 year old Reiss highlights is how adrift the girls feel at a stage in their lives when they clearly think they should be adult, but don’t know how to achieve that elusive state. Ruth and Dana gravitate towards Jim on two levels; as the only male in the group who responds quite flirtatiously to them, which annoys Jesse who observes that ‘a lot of ball worship is going on, here’. But, just as interestingly, all the girls – Jesse included – crave the comfort and stability of someone more mature and experienced. It seemed to me that Reiss is unpacking the modern trend of generational ghettos, where people across the age divide no longer socialise together. At a stage in their lives where the young women realise they The-Acid-Test-007are now capable of making messes of epic proportions, there didn’t seem to be anyone else to advise them, so once the drink takes hold, they want Jim to step into that role. Unfortunately for them, Jim is not up to the task…

It is a fascinating dynamic, complemented by the superb acting. Managing to produce a credible characterisation in such a small space, yet sustain the necessary complete concentration for 90 minutes without any break is a big ask. All the actors ably rose to the challenges posed by Reiss in this taut, funny four-hander. Vanessa Kirby, the beautiful and confused Dana, manages to bring out the inherent humour of the character, without allowing the comedy to swamp the pathos of her dilemma. Phoebe Fox gives a strong performance as Ruth, flailing around in the soap opera version of her life that she believes gives it credibility – but for my money, the standout actress is Lydia Wilson’s depiction of Jesse. The part requires a great deal of control and focus, particularly in the early stages of the play, and Lydia manages to display the embarrassment and increasing discomfort connected with her father’s presence – along with the pain of their dysfunctional relationship. Dennis Lawson revels in the role of a Peter Pan figure, more than happy to bask in the admiration of the younger women, but unable to respond with anything meaningful to his own daughter’s passionate demands for something deeper. His volte face at the end of the play is entirely plausible.

All in all, The Acid Test provided me with an excellent afternoon at the theatre and if you can get hold of a ticket before the last night on 11th June, I recommend you do so, this little gem is worth watching.