Manners, Mirth and Muffins!
‘The Importance of Being Earnest’
Lichfield Garrick Main Theatre Tuesday 27 March
The Importance of Being Earnest is not only one of the most famous of Oscar Wilde’s plays but also has one of the most famous retorts in the British Theatre…’A Haaanndbaaag’ has been uttered on many occasions, by many leading actresses and by thousands of theatre-goers over the decades!
This production is playing at the main theatre at the Lichfield Garrick this week, until Saturday 31 March and has a delightful cast with a host of well-known television, theatre and movie stars including Gwen Taylor (Duty Free, Coronation Street), Susan Penhaligon (Bouquet of Barbed Wire, A Fine Romance) and Thomas Howes (Downton Abbey).
Earnest was first performed on stage in 1895 but it not old fashioned or staid, it may be from the Victorian era but I am certain it definitely would have amused Queen Victoria! The play is part comedy, part farce and part Wilde lampooning the classes, morals and manners of the strict code of the day.
In terms of the plot, both leading men, Jack (Ernest) and Algernon (Bunbury) have two sets of christian names which they use to their advantage when they want to ‘disappear’ from the straitjacket of their responsibilities. When their respective aliases are uncovered this causes confusion, misunderstandings, faux-pas and double-takes. However, the tangled lives become untangled and there is a ‘happily ever after’ ending where Jack-Ernest discovers the true importance of being earnest!
As is customary with Wilde there are a whole host of fabulous, witty, pithy, caustic lines and has a veritable fountain fall of double-entendres that it is difficult to keep up with them all!
Coupled with these fantastic lines the very strong cast form a formidable partnership, Gwen Taylor is just fantastic as Lady Bracknell, her experience and stage craft shine through, Susan Penhaligon and Geoff Aymer are very funny as ‘are-they-aren’t-they’ potential lovers and Peter Sandys-Clarke and Thomas Howes as Jack and Algy make great sparring partners as they both accuse each other of abusing their twin Christian name privileges, chase each other round the stage and fire off wonderful muffin-encrusted one line insults! Howes’ interpretation of the upper class Algernon is reminiscent of part Billy Bunter, part Mr Pickwick and it is definitely worth looking at his expressions and mannerisms whenever he is on stage. Hannah Louise Howell plays feisty, stand up for herself Gwendolen (you can imagine her as a potential suffragette!) and Louise Coulthard is ditzy, kooky Cicely Cardew who pops and fizzes across the stage, leaping and bouncing about and has a fabulous Miranda Richardson-esque squeal! Judith Rae and Simon Shackleton complete the cast providing strong support as the mischievous maid and long suffering hang-dog expression butler.
This is the latest of a number of performances of the play around the country and it shows – this is a slick, polished and razor sharp production, both from the cast and the ‘behind the scenes’ team, the play is produced by The Original Theatre Company. It’s got a stellar cast whose sheer professionalism comes to the fore, a witty, sharp-as-a-tack script from the brilliant, albeit ill-fated Oscar Wilde, with enough classic comedy lines to last you a lifetime let alone one evening.
If you go and see one show this year then I’d make it The Importance of Being Earnest – I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!