Writers: Oscar Wilde with additional material by Simon Brett
Director: Lucy Bailey
For those unfamiliar with Oscar Wilde’s famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest (or a Trivial Comedy for Serious People) it’s a wondrously witty and satirical look at Victorian society. It follows two bachelors: the dependable John Worthing, J.P., and upper-class playboy Algernon Moncrieff, who take on different identities to secure the love of two ladies with whom they have fallen in love. The name Earnest is apparently incredibly attractive during this time.
However, in this production, The Bunbury Company of Players are in rehearsals for their own production of The Importance of Being Earnest. The additional material by Simon Brett works very well – though Nigel Havers arriving on stage as Algernon Moncrieff in his bright red trainers is a little confusing until things are explained. Rather modern footwear aside, all the other costumes are wonderfully in keeping with the period.
This production boasts an incredibly experienced cast and the final product certainly shows it. Rosalind Ayres, Nigel Havers, Martin Jarvis, Christine Kavanagh and Siân Phillips reprise their West End rôles. Carmen Du Sautoy and David Shaw-Parker join the cast as Gwendolyn Fairfax and Reverend Canon Chasuble respectively. Nigel Anthony also joins the cast as Merriman and Lane.
Siân Phillips commands the stage as Lady Bracknell and it is impossible to imagine any other actress taking this rôle. As Lavinia, she is brilliantly witty, practising her famous ‘handbag’ line before rehearsal and repeatedly chastising her husband for slouching.
Nigel Havers has the crowd laughing as Algernon with his cheesy asides as Dicky adding even more to Oscar Wilde’s already funny content. Similarly, Martin Jarvis does a wonderful job as John Worthing and Tony (the production’s director). The pair are hilarious together and without their chemistry, the play would certainly have a very different feel.
Nigel Anthony as Lavina’s husband,George, takes on both rôles of Merriman and Lane in the company’s production to many giggles from the audience. He gets told off by all the characters at some point as the three characters he plays.
Carman Du Sautoy and Christin Kavanagh as enemies to best friends Gwendolen and Cecily have excellent comedic timing together and their scenes are some of the best. Rosalind Ayres and David Shaw-Parker are also excellent.
Lucy Bailey has done a fabulous job. The play within a play format that has been adopted for this production is a rather brilliant idea. Seeing snippets of the actors’ lives behind the scenes is a way of bringing new material to a much loved and very famous play, without ruining it for fans of Oscar Wilde. Dicky’s affairs with several of the female Players cause tension between many, and Maria’s Gwendolen, who likes to remind everyone that she once worked at the National and most definitely has not put on weight, are lovely touches. And as far as rehearsals for plays go – this one is certainly a great effort.
All the famous lines are there and those in rehearsal are very true to the original play. It is also worth noting the clever, additional material in the programme for The Bunbury Company of Players. A unique idea.
Now, pick up a cucumber sandwich and go and see this production.
Photo: Tristram Kent | Runs until: 19 September 2015