A brilliant comedy with a clear freshness of performance
Written by world-renowned playwright, Oscar Wilde, in 1894, The Importance Of Being Earnest was written as 'A Trivial Comedy for Serious People' and, with its farcical exuberance, has graced the world's stages ever since. Wilde proffered a satirical take on Victorian practices such as marriage and the preoccupation with manners, and this legendary masterpiece is brought to the Lichfield Garrick stage by Original Theatre Company who ensure its journey continues with a clear freshness of performance.
In an attempt to escape the mundanity of Victorian life, and its extraordinary social conventions, affluent gentlemen Jack Worthing (Peter Sandys-Clarke) and Algernon Moncrieff (Thomas Howes) create imaginary friends and alternative personas. The play's protagonist, Jack, is known as Jack in the country and Ernest in the city. Jack's best friend Algernon, the charming, idle bachelor and nephew of Lady Bracknell has invented a fictional friend, Bunbury, whose frequent sudden sicknesses allow Algernon to wriggle out of dull social duties in order to visit. When Jack and Algernon's lives intertwine with their fictitious alter-egos, affairs of the heart become rather complicated and result in a comedy of errors involving love interests Gwendolen and Cecily.
The responsible, respectable Jack Worthing is played perfectly by Peter Sandys-Clarke who has an impressive resume of theatrical, TV and film credits to his name, as does Thomas Howes who is as brilliant as he is witty with his portrayal of Algernon delighting the audience with his insatiable, and reckless, consumption of muffins.
Gwen Taylor stars as Lady Bracknell. BAFTA Award nominated actress, Gwen has appeared in a long list of British TV favourites including Coronation Street, Heartbeat, Holby City and Casualty and has too a wealth of theatrical experience which she brings assuredly to the Garrick stage. Cunning and authoritarian, she is possibly the most quotable character in the play as she enters the room with frozen stares, demonstrates her methodical mercenariness by itemising Jack's assets in a notebook and shows her disapproval at the discovery of Jack's birthplace.
The pretentiously sophisticated Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax is played beautifully by Hannah Louise Howell, whose theatre credits include roles in Romeo and Juliet, Mermaid and Much Ado About Nothing. Gwendolen is fixated on the name Ernest, saying she will not marry a man without that name. Louise Coulthard, who plays Cecily Cardew with vigor and confidence, is also enamored with the name Ernest. She has imaginatively fallen in love with Jack’s brother Ernest and diarizes a fictional romance between them. Cecily's governess, Miss Prism, is played hilariously by Susan Penhaligon, whose many TV credits include Upstairs Downstairs, Tales Of The Unexpected, Bergerac, Casualty and Dr Who, and her role is paramount to the plot as we later discover her part in the disappearance of baby Jack.
Dr. Chasuble, played smoothly by actor, writer and former comedian, Geoff Aymer, is the rector on Jack’s estate. Chasuble agrees to baptize both Jack and Algernon in the new name of Ernest. Chasuble entertains secret romantic feelings for Miss Prism and vice versa, Chasuble concealing his romantic signals to Miss Prism beneath scholarly figures of speech and Miss Prism later returning with her famous metaphoric fruits line. Simon Shakleton (Lane/Merriman) and Judith Rae (Moulton) confidently complete the cast line up and light up the stage with their charming characterisations and comedy moments.
With a warm and inviting set this three act play directed by Alastair Whatley and designed by Gabriella Slade was well received by a full house on opening night, three acts ensuring just enough time for two ice creams as we indulged and submerged ourselves in this brilliantly written piece of theatre.
Runs to 31 March. (contains smoking on stage)
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