"In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing." You'd be hard pressed to sum up this glorious production of Oscar Wilde's most iconic comedy better than in the words of one of its characters, Gwendolen. This stunning re-imagination does Wilde's masterfully cutting parody of upper class Victorian life proud.
The story follows two bachelors who create alter egos named Ernest to escape their tiresome lives and attempt to win the hearts of two women who, conveniently, claim to only love men called Ernest. Cue a farcical tale of deception, disguise and misadventure.
The mirrored staging, modern costuming and musical interludes give this production an ingenious contemporary twist and the comedy is as hilarious now as it was inflammatory back in 1895. Indeed, productions like this one show just how ahead of his time Wilde was. Still, it takes timing and execution to pull the comedy off and this cast gets it right throughout.
Fela Lufadeju brings something rather different to the role of John, the straight man of the piece. It's a John who is rather more confident and emboldened than you would see in many productions. On the whole this matched the originality of the production well, but in places it somewhat reduced the impact of the comedy, especially in the scenes which rely on the contrast between his character and the flamboyant Algernon.
Edward Franklin doesn't put a foot wrong as Algy, you could imagine Wilde chuckling along to his physicality and timing.
Meanwhile the play's fawning young ladies, Gwendolen and Cecily, are played beautifully by Martha Mackintosh and Sharan Phull and the scene where the two meet and discover the deception being practiced on them is wonderfully funny. Mackintosh is delightfully prim as Gwendolen, finding laughs which would pass other actors by. And Phull masters the innocence of Cecily in a way which heightens the comedic impact of her occasionally cutting remarks.
Cathy Tyson makes for a formidable Lady Bracknell. Virtually all of her lines are humdingers and Tyson makes the most out of each and every one in a seasoned performance.
There's sterling support too from Dominic Gately as a hilariously reverent Dr Chasuble and Angela Clerkin as Miss Prism as both try in vain to stifle their feelings for one another. And Darren Bennett doesn't even need lines to gain some of the production's biggest laughs as a delightfully camp Merriman.
You can't help imagining what Wilde would have made of director Nikolai Foster's snazzy reinvention of his most iconic story. Methinks he would approve.
The Importance of Being Earnest plays at The REP until 24 September.
Love Midlands Theatre
Sharing the latest theatre news and reviews around the Midlands.