The Importance of Being Earnest

Thu 7th – Sat 9th November 2013

reviews

Emma Dooley

at 10:11 on 8th Nov 2013

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The Importance of Being Earnest is often cited as Oscar Wilde’s most enduring work, and the pinnacle of his artistic achievement. Whether you are a fan of Wilde’s work or not, it would have been difficult not to enjoy Ooook! Productions’ rendition of this classic.

There were some early technical difficulties, and the cast at first appeared a little unsteady on their feet, but relaxed into their roles as the play continued. There was also such a warmth and enthusiasm in their demeanor's that any awkwardness stemming from this was completely avoided, indeed the very few mistakes that occurred I found actually quite charming, with some interruptions a small reminder of what real conversations often sound like.

Comedic timing also improved throughout the play as the cast began to gauge the mood of the audience, who were laughing loudly and often, clearly at some unexpected points. This caused a few lines of dialogue to become lost, however that might be attributed to the occupational hazard of rehearsing comedy with no audience, particularly comedy written over a hundred years ago. It was good to see so much of the original material still making such an impression on a modern audience, a satirical line about literary criticism being left to the daily papers was delivered particularly well and resonated with a certain reviewer!

I was particularly and pleasantly surprised at the amount of physical comedy the play managed to produce, with Phillipe Bosher as Algernon especially standing out here and delivering a really excellent performance throughout. Abigail Weinstock’s Lady Bracknell was also played beautifully, with confidence and well received comedy, including some very impressive facial expressions. The rest of the cast more than held their own, with scenes between Gwendolyn (Lydia Brown) and Cecily (Meg Osbourne) and Algernon and Jack (Chaz Pitman) being especially commendable for quick wit, chemistry and obvious rapport that played well to a full house.

The Importance of Being Earnest’s deeper meaning, and critics have argued and will continue to argue over just how far down this meaning might go, has perhaps been lost after changes in society rendered the world it satirizes obsolete. What has remained is Wilde’s wit and capacity to entertain, which was certainly exercised fully by a talented and committed cast and crew performing with a charm and gusto that endeared them to their audience.

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Victoria Ferguson

at 11:13 on 8th Nov 2013

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House lights up, the stage lights come on. The stage curtain opens a tentative few inches before closing again (Oh Ooook!, you tease!). The stage lights come down and, a long few seconds later, the house lights come down. Right, first blackout: done. Next challenge, perform the rest of the play.

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ had a bit of a bumbling start. But the audience had come for an evening of comedy and lapped up the chaos of the production from before the first act had even begun. Packing out the Assembly Rooms on opening night is easier said than done – perhaps like creating a blackout on stage – but Ooook! Productions managed it. The energy within the theatre was totally vibrant, and the night was filled with people laughing in all the right places and then pretty much everywhere else as well.

The real comic value of this show lies in Abigail Weinstock’s Lady Bracknell. Her characterisation is superb and she is as hilarious in her reactions to other characters as in her own fantastic monologues. Indeed, the gentleman next to me commented that Weinstock bears remarkable resemblance to an old bat of a great aunt that he once had. (Abigail, I would take that as a compliment.)

Also very impressive is Lydia Brown as Gwendolen. The nonsense that comes out of her mouth is given a strange legitimacy by the gorgeous Julie Andrews tone to her voice and her composed haughtiness proves very funny when set against the nigh on pathetic eagerness of her lover, Earnest; a contrast that is particularly well played out in the first proposal scene.

Chaz Pitman and Phillipe Bosher took a while to relax into their roles as the two main protagonists. Spontaneous gestures such as lounging on the sofa or casually munching on sandwiches don’t quite work if the actor has his ‘concentration face’ on or if he’s so tense that he looks like he’s standing at attention. I’ll put this down to the pressure of opening the show on opening night, because they returned in Act II with newfound confidence. The pair responded well to the audience’s reactions with some fun melodrama and improved comic timing.

I found myself slightly confused about to what extent director Kate Wilkinson intends the play to be realistic. Though the set is lifelike and actors drink real tea and eat actual cucumber sandwiches, other moments such as Cecily’s highly exaggerated mime with an empty watering can are incredibly stylised.

The script is hilarious, and the actors evidently have great fun performing it. On occasion, a smirk or a moment of intense don’t-make-me-laugh eye contact between actors betrayed the fact that, even after weeks of rehearsing, they aren’t indifferent to the comic absurdity of the plot. On the one hand, who can blame them? But this did suspend the realism and planted the show quite firmly in the bracket of ‘entertaining student play’ rather than allowing it to elevate into the realm of more general excellence.

“An engagement should come on a young girl as a surprise, pleasant or unpleasant as the case may be.” An interesting view from the ever-eccentric Lady Bracknell, but if the same is true of a theatre review, then I hope that the cast finds this one a pleasant surprise, because overall I think this production very entertaining.

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