The Importance of Being Earnest

Reviewer's Rating

The Importance of Being Earnest is probably Oscar Wilde’s best-known work – and rightly so. The comedy of manners follows two young men, both of whom adopt the name Earnest, attempting to win over the objects of their respective affections in the face of the usual hurdles: elderly aunts, inconvenient governesses, familial disapproval. The Original Theatre Company’s production of this beloved play is impressive; the company makes the play their own without resorting to innovation for its own sake.

The show is well-paced, clocking in at just over two hours, with two intervals. This is a clever choice; none of the scenes feels either rushed or drawn-out, and the jokes are given room to land without being immediately overshadowed by the next line. Some of the pacing decisions seem to go against what makes the most dramatic sense, such as Algernon and Jack’s garden scene, which closes the second act. The preceding scene, of Gwendolen and Cecily’s first meeting, is one of the high points of the play, and choosing to follow it with another scene instead of going straight to the interval could have backfired. Howes and Sandys-Clarke, however, carry it off with aplomb, resulting in a structure which, done right, is much more narratively satisfying.

This thoughtful attention is not merely limited to the construction and pacing of the play; instead, it is evident throughout, and what makes this such a strong production. In a play so full of famous lines, actors are often left either trying to measure up to famous predecessors, or trying to put a new spin on the part and risking awkwardness. Taylor, however, is a superb Lady Bracknell – she makes the part her own, and is a tremendous delight to watch. In fact, this is true of all of the cast members (Sandys-Clarke’s Jack is somewhat reminiscent of Colin Firth’s 2002 film performance; but, really, this is no bad thing). Gwendolen in particular is excellently played by Howell, while Howes’s Algernon is wonderfully louche.

Gabriella Slade’s set is, on first glance, somewhat strange, with exaggerated art deco windows dominating the stage. The set-pieces, though, are nicely chosen, particularly those used in the garden scenes, and the costumes are appropriately lavish. At its best – and it is rarely not working at its best – this is a considered and well-rounded production. The sensitivity to Wilde’s original text is very satisfying, and lines like Lady Bracknell’s commentary on the state of education in England are allowed to resonate with the audience without the production forcing a contemporary reading onto the viewers. At times thought-provoking, and always heartily enjoyable, The Original Theatre Company presents an accomplished performance of one of the greatest works in the dramatic canon.