As one of the most revived plays in the Wildean canon, each company that tackles The Importance of Being Earnest is faced with the dilemma of how to engage an audience over-familiar with both the plotlines and the punchlines. LCT have stripped back the set design to the bare essentials creating an elegant and effective backdrop able to move from London flat, to country manor, by way of a garden, seamlessly with just a little help from Richard Stemp’s scene-stealing set of servants Lane & Merriman. This beautifully streamlined design from Kerry Bradley, complimented by Michael Cabot’s clear and focussed direction, allowed the dialogue to take centre-stage.
Unfortunately, a lack of energy and pace in the delivery reduced the beginning of Act 1 to a series of flat one-liners spoken at, rather than to, each other. In fact, the biggest laughs of the first half were produced by Stemp’s silent but pointed removal of a tea-tray. The arrival of Helen Keeley’s marvellously arch Gwendolyn added a new life and humour to the proceedings – particularly in a display of very sensual sandwich eating – but the interval arrived before the production or the comedy had really been established.
London Classic Theatre has created a well-designed, intelligently directed, and finely acted production of Wilde’s most popular play
The second half began much more promisingly with a burst of infectious joy and enthusiasm in the figure of Felicity Houlbrooke’s charming Cecily which lifted the whole performance. Both audience and cast visibly relaxed as the lovers met, identities were duly mistaken, and the play began its wonderful unravelling. The high standard of performances from the supporting cast further increased the enjoyment; including the most genuinely moving moment of the play provided, perhaps surprisingly, by Miss Prism’s confession (superbly played by Laoisha O’Callaghan). The revelations in Act 3 were deftly handled but failed to reach the heights of hilarity latent in the play.
London Classic Theatre has created a well-designed, intelligently directed, and finely acted production of Wilde’s most popular play. It has the possibility to be a truly enchanting evening but, on this occasion, it fell sadly short of its potential.
*** (3 stars)
Touring until 14th June