Writer: Oscar Wilde
Director: Richard Fitch
Reviewer: Clare Boswell
The Importance of Being Ernest, currently in production at Mold’s Theatr Clwyd is one of Oscar Wilde’s most popular and enduring social satires and is a story which is familiar to most; at its centre is Jack ‘Ernest’ Worthing (Matt Jessup), who has made something of himself, despite not knowing his own parental origins, beyond that, he was found as a baby in a handbag that was left in a cloakroom at Victoria Station. Jack (who is also known as John as well as Ernest – the confusion starts early!) is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax (Emma Denly), who seems to return his affection, but only because she thinks his name is Ernest. Meanwhile Gwendolen’s cousin Algernon Moncrieff (James Backway) sets out to seduce Jack’s ward Cecily Cardew (Robyn Cara), by pretending to be Jack’s younger brother Ernest. Inevitably, the four lovers end up in the same place, pursued by Gwendolen’s mother Lady Bracknell (Hilary MacClean) and chaos ensues.
Director Richard Fitch gives the play a smooth and slick flow and clearly stays true to Wilde’s intention of affectionately skewering the hypocrisies and pretensions of British high society. Whilst Wilde’s satire clearly shines through and Fitch has given the production a youthful and fresh feel, his direction sometimes runs the danger of becoming too silly. Slapstick moments are a little too ‘hammed up’ and daft at times which isn’t needed in dialogue where Wilde’s great and penetrating wit is enough to keep any audience member entertained.
Lee Newby has created a great set design and whilst Algernon’s quarters in Act 1 are a little underwhelming, Act 2 certainly makes up for this and the garden at the manor house is truly striking. The depth of the staging and some strategically placed hedges allow for some wonderfully comedic entrances and exits. Fitch also created an ingenious end to Act 1, where the audience witness the transition between locations prior to the first interval, which is visually very effective and adds to the contemporary and exciting feel of the production.
However, it is the energy and vibrancy of the four young suitors that really bring this production to life. Backway’s Algernon is confident, playful and irreverent, whilst in contrast, Jessup brings an endearing awkwardness to Jack; the result is a great rapport between the two paradoxical characters and some truly comedic moments; the choral movements between the two in Act 3 being a particular highlight. Denly and Robyn are delightful as love rivals Cecily and Gwendolen whilst Nick Harris gives a master class in character acting as the cynical Lane and foolish Merriman. Melanie Walter’s ever so slightly demented facial expressions as Miss Prism are a sight to behold, and alongside Darren Lawrence as Rev. Canon Chasuble clearly know how to extract maximum laughs from Oscar Wilde’s witty script. Hilary Maclean has some huge shoes to fill as the imperious Lady Bracknell and although her vocal delivery in Act 1 is a little hesitant, she more than makes up for this in Act 3 where her mesmerising stage presence and physicality perfectly captures this imposing character.
The Importance of Being Ernest is a production abounding with vigour and although sometimes the slapstick stage business is a little overplayed, Fitch and his team are to be congratulated on breathing fresh air into Wilde’s comedy of manners.
Runs until 27 May 2017 | Image: Contributed