The Importance of Being Earnest

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Theatre Royal Windsor (venue)

30 April 2018 (released)

01 May 2018

Oscar Wilde’s exemplary play, The Importance of Being Earnest, is a sheer delight and the Original Theatre’s production of it doesn’t fail to thoroughly entertain their audience. There’s an almost visceral pleasure in hearing Wilde’s witty verbal acrobatics performed live.

Jack: ..that my dear Algy, is the whole truth, pure and simple

Algernon: The truth is rarely pure and never simple

This play is so rich with seemingly light but sharply incisive dialogue that you can see how much fun this group of actors had with it. Widely considered his best work, it was first performed in 1895 just months before Oscar Wilde’s tragic fall from grace. Knowing this somehow poignantly intensifies the cleverly conveyed messages of his social satire.

The first act is set in Algernon’s apartment, an elegant art nouveau home. There’s a wonderful contrast between Thomas Howe’s Algernon in his peacock coloured outfit and Earnest Worthing (who is really Jack) in his conservative suit. However, both men are united in using lies to allow themselves to be utterly self indulgent, creating false identities to escape their town or country duties and behave exactly how they please.

You may remember Thomas Howe as footman William Mason in Downton Abbey. Here, he’s in a reverse role with a butler and maid waiting on him. This makes it all the more amusing when, as Algernon, he delivers the lines “Really, if the lower orders don’t set us a good example, what on earth is the use of them? They seem, as a class, to have absolutely no sense of moral responsibility.”

Gwen Taylor as Lady Bracknell is a formidable figure, driving the plot through her depiction of this impressively demanding and exacting nature. She emphatically insists on each character dancing to her tune and is suitably aggrieved when they don’t. She enjoys some of the funniest lines in the play and delivers them with aplomb getting plenty of laughs along the way.

Lady Bracknell: Do you smoke?

Jack Well: Yes, I must admit I smoke

Lady Bracknell I’m glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind. There are far too many idle men in London as it is.

The action moves from London to Jack’s country home where the characters find themselves getting gnarled and trapped by their own falsehoods. Wilde uses some wonderful techniques to amuse us. The increasing tension between Gwendoline and Cecily as they believe they are both in love with the same man gives us a little guiltless schadenfreude as we know they are mistaken and the situation can be resolved. Their impassioned interactions play out the truth of Algernon’s comment, “Women only call each other sister when they have called each other a lot of other things first”

The play is so perfectly formed and tightly written that we find ourselves galloping through the comic twists to the satisfying denouement. This lively production of one our great English classics is not to be missed.

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