Ernest; Much Ado About Muffins

Thu 31st July – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

David Harris

at 08:51 on 2nd Aug 2014

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You’re always going to have high hopes for a show that mentions muffins in the title. Thankfully, Ernest did not disappoint.

Much Ado About Muffins is a musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, and manages to retain the majority of the Wildean wit and sparkle whilst also throwing in a song and dance. Aside from a slightly odd framed narrative involving a modernly-dressed Jack (Thomas Dawkins) and a laptop, it remains largely faithful to the original.

The opening scene between Dawkins and Simon Kingsley (Algernon) sets the tone for the performance. Exchanges are quick and snappy, the audience is quickly engaged with side-glances and aside mutterings, and the first song (“I’m Going To Propose”) is easily integrated, with both actors keeping perfect character throughout their songs. Musical Director Matt Abrams provides flawless piano accompaniment to a range of songs – I would dearly love to hear the music orchestrated on a larger scale.

The actors work wonderfully in various pairs throughout the show. A particular highlight is the scrap between Gwendolen (Cassandra Foster) and Cecily (Catherine Hayworth). The latter is particularly impressive, naturally and effortlessly captivating her audience while being distracted with her dressing up. The romances are distinct and amusing, even from Brian Eastty (Dr Chasuble) and Gillian Steventon (Miss Prism); their “Man Was Made For Woman” routine is hilariously out-of-place. The final cast member, Amanda Bailey, gives a sterling performance as Lady Bracknell, delivering lines with all the command and imperiousness the character deserves (although the script criminally omits her most immortal line: “A handbag?!”).

The women of the cast combine in some very precise jazz harmonies for “Ernest”, one of the show’s stand-out songs. However, it is not quite as effective when the entire cast combines at the end for the finale - whilst the sound is impressive, the happy-ever-after nature of the song did not show on the faces of all the actors. Simply put, some of them needed to smile more!

This lack of emotional range was a niggling flaw throughout; I felt Dawkins could have made his expressions slightly more pronounced at times, especially when singing. Steventon, meanwhile, seemed hardly perturbed when confronted by a very angry Lady Bracknell towards the end of the play. Not all characters were guilty of this, however – Kingsley frequently had me guffawing at the twitch of an eyebrow – and I think that this will grow with confidence throughout the show’s run. Overall, a charming, clever, and very funny performance that is highly recommended.

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Xavier Greenwood

at 09:55 on 2nd Aug 2014

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Ernest; or Much Ado About Muffins is a modern musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, performed by an experienced cast, which – though an easy and inoffensive mid-morning watch – delivers less than it promises, but delivers what it does well.The opening and closing sequence certainly needs to make clearer the entrance into and exit from ‘Wilde World’ (a virtual world in which Jack and his friends role-play characters from The Importance of Being Earnest) if it is justifiably to be called a modern recasting of Wilde’s play; that being said, if considered merely as a straight-up adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, albeit with musical numbers, it delivers thus with aplomb.

In less than an hour it manages to condense, with a great degree of success, Wilde’s original play, whilst seamlessly blending in musical numbers, flawlessly aided by the pianist and musical director Matt Abrams. The cast make excellent use of the limited stage space in terms of their interpersonal movements, with no sense at any point that the stage might be just too small for a cast of seven, as one might expect; moreover, the simple set is counteracted by the lavish costumes, which successfully reflect the blasé luxury of the Victorian upper classes.

The cast themselves perform ably with the stand-out performances being the coupling of Jack (Thomas Dawkins) and Algernon (Simon Kingsley) who complement each other well, and who both seem to fit perfectly into the respective roles of the uptight and self-questioning suitor, and the more vivacious cad; both are very capable singers. ‘Too Far in Love,’ which Jack performs with the convincingly enamoured Gwendolen (Cassandra Foster) is a sincerely touching number. The supporting cast must also be commended; Catherine Hayworth is particularly impressive in her portrayal of Cecily, and convincing as the dotty suitee of Jack, very likeable and utterly engaging. The slight weak links in the cast, at least in terms of singing, would have to be Dr Chasuble (Brian Eastty) and Miss Prism (Gillian Steventon), who were at times shaky, which can be forgiven considering they were part of a strongly musical cast, and especially since Steventon is acting in her first musical role.

On the whole, though it is an exaggeration to call Ernest; or Much Ado About Muffins a modernisation, insofar as the modern elements are limited merely to the opening and closing moments of the play, it is otherwise solidly adapted and well-performed.

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