Play review: The Importance of being Earnest
Venue : York Theatre Royal
Review by: Julia Pattison
I’ve seen many versions of Oscar Wilde’s wonderfully witty play The Importance of being Earnest; some best forgotten.
However, The Original Theatre Company certainly lived up to its name, with director Alastair Whatley tapping into Wilde’s wicked sense of humour (and his defiance for the British Establishment), and along with his stellar cast, breathed new life into this comedy of romance.
The set, designed by Gabriella Slade was on the cusp of art nouveau, and was wonderfully sumptuous.
In Act 2 the space was transformed into a glorious English garden set, complete with white wrought iron garden furniture including a garden swing with William Morris fabric cushions; a perfect setting for Afternoon Tea and earnest goings on.
Susan Penhaligon was delightfully impish as Miss Prism, and there was a gentle charm about her blossoming romance with Rev Canon Chasuble (Geoff Aymer).
Gabriella also designed the fabulous costumes too, with the wonderful Gwen Taylor looking like a ship in full sail whenever she appeared on stage, playing Lady Bracknell in her own, original way, with a real sense of mirth and mischief.
There were many nonverbal asides throughout the play along with bun fights making for spiffing fun, without detracting from Wilde’s sharp witticisms.
Thomas Howes was in his element as frivolous fop Algernon and lit up the stage with his presence.
He and Peter Sandy-Clarke, (playing ever increasingly jittery Jack) made a brilliant double act as the situation spiralled into absurdity. There were strong performances too, from Louise Coulthard (Cecily Cardew) and Hannah Louise Howell as Gwendolen Fairfax; their sense of comic timing was spot on.
A buoyant, bouncy production, that’s as satirically relevant today, as it was back on its opening night in February 1895. The cast thoroughly deserved the rapturous applause at the end of a performance that Oscar Wilde would have been proud of.