Theatre

The Importance Of Being Earnest @ Jermyn Street Theatre, London



cast list
James Pellow
Stephen Carlile
Ian Hallard
Georgina Carey
Jayne Dickinson
Judy Burgess
Roger Sansom
Peter Mair

directed by
Ben Horslen and John Risebero
Pleasant. Conventional. These are terms that can be used both to praise and to criticise. If a production makes no attempt to show you something new, to make you look at a text afresh, can it make for a genuinally involving theatrical experience? The answer is yes, but only to point.

This new staging of Oscar Wilde’s classic play by fringe company Antic Dispostion is a determindely solid and familiar affair. Costumes reflect the late Victorian setting and the simple set is equally in keeping with the period: a chaise-lounge, a couple of chairs and a large gilt picture frame which dominates the backdrop. The acting is brisk and competent and the compact space of the subterranean Jermy Street Theatre is well utilised. Everything is as it should be. Nothing about the production jumps out at you as being particularly wrong-headed or misguided, but nor is anything about it that is particularly striking or memorable about it.

One could argue that with a play like The Importance Of Being Earnest, one of the most immaculately crafted stage comedies there is, to tamper with it in any way would be folly. And that’s a valid argument. But there are ways of injecting an element of playfulness into things whilst maintaining a reverence for the text; witness the superbly frantic two-man production of the play by Ridiculusmus from a couple of years ago.

The only vaguely novel element in this version is the casting of James Pellow as Lady Bracknell, but even the this, the casting of a man in the role of the fearsome Aunt Augusta, seems rather obvious. To his credit, Pellow resists the urge to camp things up and plays the role admirably straight and even a little subdued.

The rest of the cast are just as dependable, turning in assured, unflashy performances that hit all the right notes. Stephen Carlile makes an endearing Algernon. Georgia Carey and Jayne Dickinson, as Gwendolen and Cecily respectively, are both decent comic performers, milking the humour from the speed at which these two women switch from love rivals to best friends. Peter Mair, in both butler roles, does some highly entertaining scene stealing.

Pacing is a little awry however and the production takes an age to warm up, but when it does the sheer comic perfection of Wilde’s play inevitably works its magic. The laughs come where they should and everything is wrapped up neatly. Which is fine. It’s just that there’s nothing here likely to make this production stick in the memory until the next day, never mind a few years down the line. There’s nothing here to make you tell your friends: you know you really must go and see this. It’s a perfectly pleasant and conventional production of a brilliant play. And that’s all it is.



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