As the Importance of Being Earnest opened at Milton Keynes Theatre last night, reporters Bev Creagh and Stewart Carr went along to give their verdict.
CREAGH SAYS ... It’s almost impossible to believe that it’s 120 years since The Importance of Being Earnest was first performed.
It’s described as ‘a trivial comedy for serious people’ and this production purports to be a play within a play - it centres on an ageing amateur theatrical group - The Bunbury Players - rehearsing The Importance for the umpteenth time.
It’s a gem of a production with a stellar cast, including Sian Phillips as the articulate and snobbish Lady Bracknell/ Lavinia and Martin Jarvis as John Worthing/Tony.
It’s a comedy of errors, a Victorian farces which sparkles with wapish wit and double entrendes and manages to entertain without a single profanity. Equally amazing, the elegant dialogue doesn’t seem at all dated.
The cast obviously have such fun performing that it’s contagious. Each cameo performance - particularly from Christine Kavanagh as Cecily Cardew/Ellen and Carmen du Sautoy as Gwendolen Fairfax/Maria - is amusingly and perfectly executed .
The only weak link, to my mind, was Nigel Havers. He was acted off the stage by Martin Jarvis who has more substance both physically and emotionally in his interpretation of the role.
You don’t have to camp it up to get a laugh - the lines are so well written that clear enunciation is all that’s needed.
The set is perfect - the sitting room of a country house where the male members of the cast keep breaking off to catch up with the cricket score.
Entertainment at its best.
CARR SAYS ... Written long after Shakespeare and just a bit before Woody Allen, Oscar Wilde’s romantic comedy of errors still strikes a chord with its rapier wit.
I confess, I absolutely adored this play.
Wilde understood men and women, and how relationships work. He found humour in all that’s ridiculous about romance - the (little) white lies, mind games, contradictions, petty jealousies and still, most uplifting of all, the triumph of true love.
Of course, this isn’t a straight performance of The Importance of Being Ernest. It’s a play within a play. We see the ageing Bunbury players meet to rehearse the comedy they’ve staged so many times before.
The actors may be 30 years older than the characters they represent but therein lies some of the poignancy.
As they act, it doesn’t matter how much older they are, the play quickly becomes very real. Romance, drama and excitement are as much about the older generation as the young.
Sian Phillips is in full regalia as Lady Bracknell, with Martin Jarvis equally brilliant as the impetuous Jack ... or is it Ernest?
Nigel Havers is a flippant Algernon ... who also uses the occasional name Ernest, and Carmen Du Sautoy and Christine Kavanagh are wonderful as the two young dames the men are trying to impress, Gwendolyn and Cecily.
It’s hilarious and charming all the way through.
The Importance Of Being Earnest plays at Milton Keynes Theatre until September 19. See here for tickets.