The Importance of Being Earnest
RYAN MONK was amused but not astounded by this fun and silly May Week production.
The end of May Week and term as we know it; what better time for a production of Wilde’s often farcical, much-loved The Importance of Being Earnest?
Natasha Cutler clearly had the same idea, and staging this light-hearted play in the grounds of Peterhouse Deer Park was another good move, all contributing to a bright and breezy theatrical experience that the play used to its advantage.
Perhaps the addition of live music to the production in the form of cheesy keyboard accompaniment was at times a bit too knowingly daft, although it still helped add to the atmosphere of light-heartedness, and hey, it was May Week, we were all in need of a bit of stupid.
With this in mind, the production was fun, despite its faults. The play follows Ernest (Rox Middleton), a bachelor about town who lives a double life in the country as Jack. Wedding proposals ensue and inevitably, in the words of the Spice Girls, 2 Become 1 as town and country life collide as coincidence after coincidence unfolds. It’s all mental, and it’s all good fun, jam-packed with irony and social commentary just for good measure.
The play started slowly, though, Finn Brewer’s Algernon capturing the carefree nature of the character without quite managing to squeeze the comedy out of Wilde’s carefully crafted lines, whilst good direction added to the laughter; off-script moments arguably provided the best responses from a reasonably small but responsive audience. Lauren Brown as Gwendolen in particular hammed up the farcical nature of the play, her sickly-sweet piercing tones perfectly in keeping with the overblown nature of her character, and particularly effective when seducing the hapless Jack.
It was let down, though, as it failed to hit the heights necessary for effective high farce. What would usually be the most comic points fell a bit flat as lines were stumbled upon and intensity wasn’t quite achieved – despite the brilliant efforts of Brown and Yasmin Freeman (Lady Bracknell). The final scene should have been a climax to the play, a culmination of all the preposterous scenarios into a binding but ridiculous conclusion, but unfortunately the energy levels required to pull this off weren’t quite there. It’s a shame, because it would have gone down a bomb, and other moments that wouldn’t usually be regarded as great were lapped up by the audience; the cross-gender casting of Rob Eyers as Miss Prism went down a treat, and Shikha Pahari’s reading of Cecily allowed for a kind of high-brow comedy, like those people who pretend to laugh at a joke in Shakespeare.
Overall, perhaps the best thing that can be said for this play is that the audience loved it. Nobody corpsed (just), which was a decent effort, and although it got a bit fumbly all too often, there were enough high points and examples of good comic acting to push it through to the end.
This wasn’t a masterclass in Wilde, but certainly fun enough for a light-hearted chuckle after a long term.