Oscar Wilde is a master of the English language and his witticisms are quoted often. One of his most popular works is the comedy of Victorian manners, The Importance of Being Earnest, which continues to pack houses around the world and has been adapted for both film and radio.
In a coup for London’s Vaudeville Theatre, celebrated British actor David Suchet (best known as Agatha Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot) has been cast in the coveted role of Lady Bracknell and the event has been captured live on film for the world to enjoy.
The story is one of mistaken identities when two friends, both thought to have the name Earnest by their respective loves, find themselves in a mess when their overlapping double lives collide at a country manor house.
Told in three Acts, The Importance of Being Earnest moves from the sublime to the ridiculous and under the capable direction of Adrian Noble, the laughs come harder and faster as the story evoles. The dialogue is rapid fire – perhaps a bit too fast in the first Act for the comedy to fully come through – but the latter Acts are filled with hilarious facial expressions, actions and reactions to complement Oscar Wilde’s delicious one-liners.
The cast is stellar. Suchet commands the stage as harsh, opinionated Lady Bracknell, but gives a far more three dimensional interpretation of the character than is traditional. It was both a surprise and a delight to see a Lady Bracknell with a sense of humour.
As the loveable rogue Algernon Moncrieff, Philip Cumbus is energetic and camp, while Downton Abbey’s Michael Benz is delightfully flappable as his best friend, John Worthing.
Emily Barber is beautiful and proper as Gwendolen Fairfax but doesn’t quite make the character dumb enough to be the pretty doll she was raised to be. As young romantic Cecily Cardew, actress Imogen Doel has many priceless moments and her delivery is spot on.
Michele Dotrice is a surprise hit as Gwendonline’s tutor Miss Prism, progressively devolving from a prim and proper governess into a lovesick woman and, ultimately, becoming the centre of the whole debarcle that unfolds.
In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing so, as one would expect, the period costumes look great and Noble moves his cast successfully around the small stage without any masking issues. His brief moments of sycronised choreography also work a treat.
This is a filmed stage production, presented with two intermissions to separate each Act. Calling a spade a spade, The Importance of Being Earnest is recommended viewing for all lovers of the English language and good theatre.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 7
The Importance of Being Earnest opens in cinemas on 6 February 2016.