Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton
Sian Phillips as Lady Bracknell – Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton

The Importance of Being Earnest, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People is a farcical comedy by Oscar Wilde. In this show, directed by Lucy Bailey, it includes ‘additional material written by Simon Brett.’ The ‘additional material’ was the setting of the actual play within another layer – the dress rehearsal of the play.

The dress rehearsal seemed to be added to allow a nostalgic tone for the actors, whom as an elderly dramatic group, the Bunbury Company of Players, had disparities in age with their characters, as the majority of them were supposed to be in their twenties. It can be assumed then that the additional writing by Simon Brett was meant to counteract these disparities.

The presence of the dress rehearsal was heavily featured in the first half with interruptions of the actual play, consisting of conversations about costume, props and prompting. In the beginning this was not successful in framing the play itself as it went in and out of the actual play’s plot-line. For members of the audience who were not familiar with Oscar Wilde, they might not have noticed that the actors had not gotten into their stride yet when delivering the satirical lines due to these added interruptions. The exception to this was Sian Phillips, as Lavinia Spelman/Lady Bracknell, who was splendid and perfectly pitched throughout the play.

In the second half, on the other hand, the actors seemed to have found their rhythm, and this half was nearly entirely Oscar Wilde’s work alone. In terms of staging, the beautiful setup of the stage, which remained the same throughout the play, seemingly aided in bringing the audience back to Wilde’s play.

The two main male leads, Nigel Havers (Algernon Moncrieff) and Martin Jarvis (Jack Worthing) seemed to hit their stride and got a lot more laughs from the audience as a result. Whilst, Carmen du Sautoy (Gwendolen Fairfax) and Christine Kavanagh (Cecily Cardew) were a delight to watch as they worked together, and pillared the second half.

Showing at the Grand Opera House York, The Importance of Being Earnest is enjoyable entertainment for the evening, but if you are a fan of Oscar Wilde’s work then the mismatch between Wilde’s work and the ‘additional material’ might make it seem more like a pantomime.