The Importance of Being Earnest
Loft Theatre, Leamington, until May 6
Reviewer: Peter McGarry
WE should really be focusing here on the importance of being Oscar.
It’s his words that linger, his supreme literary craftsmanship that lifts the humble cucumber sandwich to the level of a sumptuous feast. This production, however, is no Oscar winner. Where it should soar in elegance, it remains firmly fixed at ground level.
Wilde’s piercing observation and playful wit cannot entirely be suppressed, thank goodness, even when the richness of his text is seriously challenged by curious set designs which, in almost minimalist vein, are cold and comfortless.
Numerous great ladies of stage and screen have attempted to make its key characters their own over the years so it is all too easy to have pre-set ideas about how they should be approached. The immortal Lady Bracknell, for example, in the hands of Julie Godfrey, falls a little short on her handbag perplexity in the first act but functions more formidably later as she finds her own rhythm with the role, which is usually played older.
The bottom line of David Fletcher’s production is its general feeling of competence rather than subtlety. Thus the opening salvos between the two young male protagonists become somewhat tedious without finding the real eloquence of the dialogue.
Things take a distinct turn for the better at the start of the second act with the arrival of Mark Crossley’s Canon Chasuble and Elspeth Dales’s Miss Prism, a duly delivered double act of delightful dithering. Their appearances constantly steal the scene, reminding us of the play’s true comedic texture.
There is also eye-catching work from newcomer Bella Stock who attractively captures the impetuous single-mindedness of the young Cecily as she experiences an awakening of her own sexuality.
Some gems, then, give a certain degree of sparkle to a production which is otherwise rather bland.