Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

SUZANNE BURLTON: ‘Was there anything wrong with this?… the production was almost perfectly executed.’

Anna Goodhart Caitlin Doherty Dr Chasuble George Johnston George Lamb Gwendolen Jamie Clark johns Lady Bracknell Mairin O'Hagan Miss Prism Scholars Garden Tadgh Barwell O'Connor

Thursday 10th June, 3pm, Scholars’ Garden of St John’s, £5 – £8

Directed by Caitlin O’Doherty

The invitation to this play cum garden party stated that picnics and straw boaters were encouraged. While this was largely not adhered to, it set the tone for an absolutely marvellous afternoon. In the Scholars’ Garden of John’s, under a tree, sat a sparsely beautiful set, apparently sponsored by Ark in the best way possible – all parasols and cake stands. Soft jazz drifted across the sweet summer air. Then it started to rain, but we held out and were certainly rewarded.

The challenges of outdoor performance were met admirably, with all the cast speaking audibly and the blocking making the most of the sweeping curve of the audience.  No one ever stopped acting so even when you couldn’t see the face of the person speaking, there was enough to look at.

Lovely directional touches added to the well-known script, such as Gwendolen imperiously pointing at Jack to kneel and sit and stand when she wished. It can be difficult when doing such a famous play to make it interesting, but this production certainly succeeded.  The characterisation might have seemed overly exuberant in a theatre but in a garden it was just what was needed.  “Quotable” lines were not over-emphasised but the sparkling words were simply left to do the work.

The cast were fabulous. Dr Chasuble (Tadhgh Barwell O’Connor) was consistently the funniest character given what he had to work with. The dynamic between Miss Prism (Anna Goodhart) and him was the perfect balance between insinuation and awkwardness. The principals were marvellous, Jack (Rupert Mercer) and Algy (George Johnston) being alternately decadent and pettily frustrated. Victoria Ball gave a steely, imperious performance as Lady Bracknell and delivered some of the most amusing gasps I have ever seen. Cecily (Caitlin Doherty, also the director who stepped in at the last minute to play this part) and Gwendolen (Mairin O’Hagan) were both flirtatious and scheming but in their own ways which made them a delightful pair.  Finally, George Lamb was the perfect discreet but knowing butler in what is otherwise a non-part, and Jamie Clark deserves congratulations for his virtuoso performance in the tea scene.

Was there anything wrong with the production? Miss Prism’s dress seemed a little out of place, and in one scene Algy and Cecily were dancing for no apparent reason which meant I couldn’t hear them very well. Occasionally, too, the scene changes dragged a little but they were always lovely to look at. Apart from this, however, the production was almost perfectly executed.