The Importance of Being Earnest – Tabard Theatre, London

Writer: Oscar Wilde

Director: David Phipps-Davis

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

One of Wilde’s most enjoyable plays, this is a longer version than the one usually seen – so more quips, asides, arch comments and playfulness then.

David Phipps-Davis’ takes some action excised from the original by Wilde and adds some back in judiciously. The result is a play that has more laughs, deeper relationships and more characters with which to reflect this silly world and improbable turn of events.

The farce focuses on two friends, Earnest and Algernon, and their romantic entanglements in the beau monde of London. Ernest loves Algie’s cousin Gwendolen, Algie feels he may love Earnest’s ward, Cecily and so visits his house as an imposter for his friend. This suits both women, as they both want to love a man named Earnest – the trouble is, owing to a mix-up with a handbag neither of the two men are actually called Earnest. When Algie’s aunt, Lady Bracknell, gets involved – it all gets a little ruptured.

For a light-hearted gadabout, Wilde throws in a lot of shade about the affectations and uselessness of the indolent class. The writing’s highly enjoyable, and the extra lines restored by Phipps-Davis are welcome as it gives us an extended fight between Cecily and Gwendolen, as well as a threatening solicitor who wants to arrest Mr. Earnest Worthing, whoever he may be. Delivery is patchy at times, unfortunately – with bursts of energy and enthusiasm rather than a sustained group tilt at the text.

While it’s a play about the ludicrous upper classes, at times it feels like mucking about with silly accents, rather than delivering a full play. For example, Lady Bracknell is a beautiful comic character in herself – she didn’t need to be caricatured further with an excessively silly voice. The flirting with the two main couples feels passionless – pretty words showing imagined emotions. Pulling this back, however, were Miss Prism and Canon Chasuble and their very sweet and charming doddery courting

It’s all backed by a simple, flexible and pleasing set from Leah Sams which ably switches us between town and country. It’s funny, not a laugh riot – generally a pleasing play, with some excitement coming from the reintroduced characters and new lines.

Runs until 23 June 2019 | Image: Andreas Grieger

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