Theatre review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Theatr Clwyd

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Staff reporter (Leader Live)

By Peggy Woodcock 

Clwyd Theatr Cymru’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest ticks all the boxes for the delivery of the genius that is Oscar Wilde. I have seen a few ‘Earnests’ in my time but none with the sparkle and the sheer vivacity of this one.

Described in the programme as ‘a rich, multi-layered feast of a play’ The Importance of Being Earnest can indeed be read in all sorts of ways, from biting social satire to a comedy of manners. Here director Richard Fitch has gone for the comic, sometimes verging on the knockabout farce – which is not to say those barbed witticisms didn’t have their impact.

Says Lady Brackness to daughter Gwendoline: “When you are engaged your father and I will inform you of it”. Ouch! Such was the lot of Victorian women.

This was an elegant production. The ladies wore exquisite frocks, the men were dapper in finely tailored gear, and the sets, from smart drawing room to rose-strewn garden, were gorgeous. The Oscar Wilde genius here was a feast for the eyes.

The pace was brisk from the off, with naughty Algernon Moncrief and the well-meaning John Worthing bouncing off each other in a mood of mischief and impending mayhem. James Backway’s slight but forceful Algernon, and Matt Jessup’s even more diminutive and lively John (or rather Jack) were a pair of young whippersnappers who owned the stage with their antics.

It had clarity. The excellent cast conducted their conversations with due attention to Wilde’s dialogue, to the cadences and wit, so nothing was lost in the delivery. Their timing was spot on, both in the stately, brittle conversations of the ladies and the hectic arguments of the men.

Ah, the ladies! A trio of delight.

Emma Denly was a statuesque Gwendolyn who could – and almost did – pick up her aspiring lover, John! It added to the fun of this courtship, running the gamut of Victorian prissiness and the minefield that was the Christian name Earnest.

Robyn Cara’s country-bred Cecily was a good contrast to Denly’s sophisticated townie Gwendolyn. She was fresh, bright, naïve, confiding nicely to the audience – as most of the cast did at one time or another. The arch interchanges of these two were a delight indeed.

Ruling the roost was Hilary Maclean’s worldly-wise Lady Bracknell. I was disappointed she chose to throw away the famous ‘A Handbag!’ line, but understand why. You could have the audience joining in! And she did justice otherwise to what are some of the best lines in the play.

Melanie Walters dithered nicely as the unfortunate Miss Prism, Darren Lawrence wooed her with suitable worship, and coped with the whippersnappers with the same dignity as the Rev Canon Chasuble, and Nick Harris exuded weary cynicism as the manservant Merriman.

Lilting polka music enhanced the proceedings, rising and falling with the action, and accompanyng one of the slickest, most entertaining scene changes I have ever seen. It was all part and parcel of a spirited production that carried the audience along on a tide of pleasure.

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