The Importance of Being Earnest, Royal Lyceum, Review
Oscar Wilde wrote satirical, melodramatic plays about the London society which he inhabited, observing attitudes and postures to create his colourful characters. His own personality was the most outrageous of them all, with his flamboyant style and contempt for conventional values in favour of art and beauty. His dramatic masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest opened on 14 February, 1895, described as “part satire, part comedy of manners and part intellectual farce.”
In this fresh, sparkling new production at the Royal Lyceum, director Mark Thomson has returned to the original four act version to reinstate previously edited scenes. It is most valuable to appreciate the full narrative, which involves the threat of criminal prosecution, in context of the real life scenario in February 1895 as Wilde was preparing to face conviction over his affair with Lord Alfred Douglas.
As a semi-autobiographical character study, Algernon Moncrieff is an amoral, wild, Wildean “dandy” – a charming, idle, self-obsessed bachelor, who delights in witty conversation, rich in epigrams and philosophical treatise. With his fellow charming, idle, wealthy man- about-town and friend, John Worthing, they are a kind of conniving double act, behaving with careless abandon, believing that life is a work of art, something one creates oneself.
Creativity and invention is at the very heart of the plot. In order to avoid and escape from social and family commitments, Algernon has a very sick friend called Bunbury who requires frequent visits, while John adopts an alter-ego “Ernest” which is his name while residing in London, but John when at his home in the country. The well known storyline revolves around classic mistaken identity, afternoon tea parties, marriage engagements, family secrets, confusion and cover-ups.
The set design of house and garden is stunning and the entire cast is quite superb: Will Featherstone and Ben Deery as Algernon and John, converse with playful bicker and banter, smashing and vollying their catty criticisms back and forth like a Wimbledon final.
Kirsty Mackay (a second year RSAMD student), effortlessly captures the vulnerable sweetness of young Cecily, while Melody Grove astutely observes the dual personality of Gwendolen, smart and sophisticated on the surface, yet empty-headed and girlish inside, with only one dream to marry a man called Ernest.
A key scene - the interrogation by the deliciously grand and gracious Lady Bracknell (beautifully portrayed by Alexandra Mathie in fabulous hats and gowns) of John Worthing is quite electrifying as she bombards him with personal questions, followed by her own authoritative views on the topic.
This hilarious comedy of Victorian upper class manners, enriched with seriously topical and contemporary comments about marriage, politics, money and education, continues to amuse and entertain audiences 115 years since it was first staged. This is a glamorous, romantic and intelligent production, performed with fast pace and crisp articulation to enhance every syllable of Wilde’s sparkling comedic wit.
Show times: 22nd October to 20th November 2010