The Studio at St James Theatre is a lovely little venue with a basement cabaret vibe which this week plays host to Butterfly’s condensed version of Oscar Wilde’s timeless comedy The Importance of Being Earnest. With simple staging and a mere 45 minute running time it’s very impressive that they manage to do the piece justice but the fast-paced format works wonders for this play of mistaken identities.
Edward Hulme is the star of the show as Algernon, an aristocratic man-about-town, nailing the character entirely with mannerisms and comic timing which win him the loudest laughs from the audience. The rest of the casting is very mixed. Jamie Coleman’s Jack isn’t quite charismatic enough to be convincing as the dual-identity lover of beautiful Gwendolen (Michelle Francis). Elsewhere Rebecca Crookshank is brilliantly stubborn as Algernon’s battleaxe Aunt Augusta, Lady Bracknell but Carla-Marie Metcalfe’s Cecily and Caryl Jones’ Miss Prism are dishearteningly one dimensional.
Another disappointment is the costume design: Cicely’s dress looks new but tacky while even the strongest performances are let down by creased, stained and shabby costumes that may well have been pulled from a dressing up box, leaving the piece looking sadly amateur. Lady Bracknell at least got a lovely new hat made for the occasion (whose designer, Ben Edmonds, even gets a mention in the programme for it) but it is a shame more effort wasn’t invested into the rest of the cast’s outfits.
Though an abridged version, most of Wilde’s one liners and brilliant plot are left intact and really do shine through. This production of The Importance of Being Earnest is the cucumber sandwich of theatre: bite-sized, very British and rather nice but not special enough to write home about. Nevertheless, a charming way to spend a lunchtime. Pack a picnic and head down before the run ends this Saturday.