Probably one of Wilde’s most enduringly popular plays, The Importance of Being Earnest was brought to Sutton Coldfield Town Hall last night for a short run, presented by Richmond Ward Productions.
The first thing that instantly sprung out was the clever use of staging, in the vast Town Hall a play could quite easily be lost amongst the grandeur of the space, but in this case it most certainly wasn’t. A simple, yet clever use of levels allowed the audience to become completely immersed in the action.
Similar to many other typical farces, the first Act serves as an introduction to each of the characters and their stories. The two protagonists (Algernon Moncrieff and ‘Ernest’ John Worthing) were portrayed excellently well by Neil Jacks and Steve Hayes. As both of their double-dealings unravel, it transpires that Worthing leads a second life in the country, whilst Algernon visits his ‘sick friend’ Bunbury to avoid social commitments. Jacks and Hayes made for a solid duo, leading the production with confidence and conviction they shared many a humorous quip that left the audience chuckling.
We quickly learn that Worthing is in love with Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (feistily performed by Catherine Keats) and under the assumed name of ‘Ernest’ a pithy little scene ensues as Worthing professes his love and Gwendolen accepts, mainly down to the fact his name is Ernest. There are only two problems: firstly, his name isn’t Ernest and secondly, Lady Bracknell, who refuses the marriage. Patrick Ward superbly steps into the shoes of Gwendolen’s formidable mother, following in the footsteps of actors such as David Suchet. He plays the part extremely well, not falling into the trap of playing up the drag element, but instead acted with utter conviction.
As the play continued into the Manor House garden, the curtains parted on the main stage and there was much positive chatter as the audience were greeted by a beautiful set. Here we are introduced to Worthing’s ward Cecily Cardew, played exceptionally well by Jazzmin Letitia. As mistaken identity ensues and the gentleman’s stories unfold, there is much hilarity, beautifully conjuring up Wilde’s signature wit.
Leading into the revelatory Act 3, it is clear that this show has lost none of its original charm. With strong support from Elizabeth Brooks, Peter Brooks, Alfie Kentesber and Stephen Green, the whole company proved their talent admirably. Even the smallest parts garnering a giggle from the audience.
Under the sound direction of Patrick Ward, this particular production was tackled very traditionally, and although there is much scope to modernise it, this superbly competent cast illustrated that sometimes nothing beats the original.
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