The Importance of Being Earnest

Venue: The Drama Barn
Run: 24 – 26 June 2011
Written By: Oscar Wilde
Directed By: Michael Wilkins
Produced By: Rosie Townshend
Assistant Director: Charles Rivington
Rating: ****

The Importance of Being Earnest is easily Wilde’s best known play, filled with his trademark wit, charm and with a title as much a paradox as it is a pun, a satire of the social and romantic ideals of Victorian society. Of course, in many ways The Importance of Being Earnest is a traditional farce; Ernest Worthing leads a cheerful double-life between town and country, but his efforts to win the hand of the beautiful Gwendolen (and, more problematically, the approval of the fierce Mrs Bracknell) and the interference of the effete and smug Algernon (who quickly develops romantic designs of his own on Worthing’s ward, Cecily) lay bare his deceptions and secrets. The script is a procession of bon mots and aphorisms, several of which have infiltrated the language as surely as Shakespeare. With such a witty script, it is very difficult to go wrong.

The performers nonetheless managed to infuse genuine (and, more importantly, original) life into the script. Comic timing and delivery were consistently faultless; no mean feat. Helena Clarke’s Gwendolen was especially noteworthy, with a faultless delivery and incredible animation. Georgia Bird and Tom Wyatt ensured the minor characters of Reverend Chasuble and Mrs Prism were as memorable as the leads with their skilled voice acting, while Edith Kirkwood embodied the matriarchal harridan Mrs Bracknell so perfectly as to be worrying. Modern sensibilities also crept into the production, with sexual tensions brought even more clearly to the forefront. This only served to increase the audience’s enjoyment, even earning applause at the end of several of the wittier exchanges.

The barn, a versatile space, was transformed into a picturesque country house filled with bunting, drapes and flowers. The thrust staging usually carries a risk of blocking and masking which was for the most part circumvented. The lighting rig was almost imperceptible: a strong point in its favour. A live band, Molten Funk, provided music and sound effects, which felt somewhat underused, but on the other hand did not overshadow the drama (though at two points did drown out dialogue somewhat).

The Importance of Being Earnest is a fine production to end the year on; it should be recommended to those who have not seen the play before, yet it still offers something to those already familiar with the script.