Author: Oscar Wilde
Director: Anna Ledwich
Designer: Andrew D Edwards
Piano: Mary McAdam
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree
“The Importance of Being Earnest” is the Guildford Shakespeare Company’s first departure from an all Shakespeare programme in the course of its eighth season of open air productions. This professional company has a high reputation for bringing first class classical productions to a wide audience in imaginative settings and this performance in no way departs from that aspiration. “Earnest” is such an appealing play, stylised to the point of ridiculousness, it has charmed young and old alike for nearly a hundred and twenty five years as it did once more last night.
The stage is the Victorian Band Stand in the immaculate grounds of Guildford Castle. Act One is set in the elegant Bachelor apartments of Algernon Moncreiff (Richard Keightley) the young drone, entertaining at first his friend, Jack (Richard Delany) and, later, his aunt, the formidable Lady Bracknell (Joan Blackham) and her daughter, Gwendolen, (Sarah Gobran). The dialogue sparkles along from the outset. The witticisms come so thick and fast one tries not to laugh too much for fear of missing the next gem.
Act II takes place in the gardens of Jack’s country estate when we first meet Cecily Cardew (Fiona Sheehan) Miss Prism, her governess (Angie Wallis) and Dr Chasuble (Simon Nock) described in the programme as “the local reverend”. Why the Americanism in such a very English text? Matt Pinches plays both the butlers, Lane in London and Merriman in the country, in such distinctive styles it is not immediately apparent that it is the same actor. In act one his accent gives the feeling that he just might come out with “a cunning plan” whereas in act two he is ever so slightly camp.
Another such distinction is made between the two young ladies who can be almost indistinguishable in some productions. This is made all the more apparent by their dress. Not only is Cecily costumed in tom boyish breeches but Cecily travels everywhere, either on formal visits in town or, presumably, on public transport, hatless and sometimes even gloveless, something of an anachronism but maybe on purpose to indicate her independent nature. Neither of these young ladies is going to let anyone else chose their husbands and Gwendolen shows signs of taking after her mother, “her misfortune” as Wilde says.
This is a beautiful and most charming evening’s entertainment from the welcome at the box office, who offer seat cushions and blankets, and the generous measures from the bar to the final bow from this accomplished cast.
Runs until 29th June 2013 at 7pm, not 7.30 as on the website