The Importance Of Being Earnest
By Oscar Wilde
The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest is possibly the best loved British comedy in the entire theatre canon, its ageless clever and witty script still delights and has the audience laughing almost non-stop in almost any performance; it is quintessentially British and we love it – as we should for a national treasure of its kind.
But this production may well have Mr Wilde turning in his grave. It cannot really be ignored that this particular production is simply an excuse for an ageing cast to play this timeless classic.
The gimmick is that it is a group of geriatric amateur players who have been playing the play for years, returning – as has become tradition – to do so again. Its not a bad concept, and at times it floats into sitcom land, with mishaps occurring to comical effect. The moments are reminiscent of issues many amateur players will recognise and actually does have some great potential, but the writer of additional content Simon Brett and director Lucy Bailey do not follow through with this.
The gimmick quickly fades and eventually dropped almost completely, leaving just a bunch of actors who are way too old for the characters to be believable, failing to make us suspend our disbelief in the slightest. That coupled with the fact that they are in effect not using the situation and circumstances they are given, the incredibly precise and detailed set is rendered obsolete, it makes you ask what is the point – it is neither in one camp, nor the other which gets increasingly frustrating.
The cast’s performances are not bad. and there are some genuine moments that get laughs, and you have the feeling that Nigel Havers would have made a good Algernon thirty years ago. Rosalind Ayres as Miss Prism, and Sian Phillips as Lady Bracknell are the most impressive – but then again they are playing characters that – age wise – they could be cast in, in a normal production.
It gives me absolutely no pleasure to say this, but it was one of the rare times I have been to the theatre and wished the production would end throughout the majority of the second act; and I could never have imaged that I’d have to say that about Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece.
It’s certain that many will feel let down by this production; it’s such a frustrating, self-indulgent, waste of a performance.