The Importance of Being Earnest review - July 2014

“The Importance of Being Earnest; a great Summer play” I thought, “heck, despite the fact that it is a touch over performed, it is pretty amusing and there is a lovely garden scene. I wouldn’t mind spending some time tittering amid some theatrical shrubbery!” Oh how wrong I was. Writer Simon Brett and Director Lucy Bailey seem to have conspired to drain Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest of all it’s juicy English summer charm leaving a dry and, for want of a better technical term, “snoozey” production by the “Bunbury Company of Players.”

Who are the “Bunbury Company of Players” I hear you cry! To be honest, after two hours, I couldn’t really tell you. What I gathered is that they are a fictitious band of cronies who have decided to stage Wilde’s text (AGAIN) as a last hurrah in the winter of their theatrical years. The Bunbury’s are seemingly the brainchild of “Writer” Brett, which he uses to awkwardly bookend Wilde’s text. It all starts somewhat promisingly; angry props mistresses, affairs among the actors, hungry sandwich thieves…great. But oh, wait, once they start “rehearsing” the play, all character arcs are thrown to the wind and we are left with is a poorly presented version of the original text.

Whilst I am not adverse to presenting a classic story in a new format, I wholeheartedly object to doing so for the sake of it, thus rendering the Bunbury’s a strange gimmick, or quite possibly a vehicle to allow somewhat ripe actors to be cast as characters they are a tad (like 30 years) too old to play.

The other issue with the rehearsal format, aside for the total lack of plot development, is the total lack of interesting set. Wilde’s text is hailed for it’s use of locations; Algernon’s London flat, a Morning room of a Woolton Manor House and the garden of the Manor House. Three separate locations for three separate acts, with Act 1 and Act 3 sandwiching a pleasant garden; wonderful. However in this outrage of a product we are woefully denied any kind of variation as we are stuck in the stuffy rehearsal room (someone’s lounge) for the entire duration, which incidentally cruelly teasers lovers of the outdoors with patio windows displaying a preferable (painted) garden. Woe oh woe.

The only real saving grace here are the fabulous cast. Slightly senior they might be, but it is not their fault they have been cast that way and they truly make the most of the material given to them. Martin Jarvis and Nigel Havers are energetic and playful as John Worthing and Algernon respectively, gaining many laughs from the audience. Sian Phillips is also an amusing Lady Bracknell, and the only member of the cast who reflects their characters intended age. Unfortunately I suspect there was a great deal of potential in the rest of the cast on stage but, as seemingly less important members of the Bunbury Players, they are quickly disposed of and forgotten.

When all is said and done, it is always a delight to hear Oscar Wilde’s text delivered, especially so here with vigour from the eager cast. However there is no denying that this particular production is a bit of a shambles with a lot of unfulfilled potential. A shame really. I do hope next year’s production (yep…ANOTHER ONE) starring David Suchet has more to offer!

17 July 2014, Harold Pinter Theatre