“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing”
In some ways, the notion of mounting a production of Oscar Wilde’s stalwart comedy The Importance of Being Earnest is a sound one – its effervescent wit remaining evergreen even 120 years after it was written. But equally, the weight of such familiarity – for it is a play that gets consistently put on a lot – means that audiences arrive with certain levels of expectation that can undermine anyone not completely secure in their work.
It’s an issue exacerbated that the fact that there’s not a huge amount that one can do, or that get done, to productions of Wilde’s work – rooted as they are in that specific turn-of-the-century English milieu – to provide the levels of excitement that make them stand out. To wit – its last excursions in the West End relied on a soon-forgotten metatheatrical twist and the stunt casting of David Suchet as Lady Bracknell and neither really succeeded.
Sarah Redmond’s production for the Brockley Jack thankfully forgoes any such gimmickry with a relatively straight-forward interpretation and if the result is comforting rather than pulse-quickening, well that’s no bad thing in the end. The standout is Daniel Desiano-Plummer’s brace of manservants, forever slyly stealing scenes with grimaces or staircase tomfoolery but also playing the troubadour with the inclusion of some gently lovely songs (by Dan Gillingwater) bookending the acts.
Emily-Rose Clarkson’s vivacious Cecily is the pick of the lovers, a wonderfully vibrant presence alive to the depth of the humour in the writing and she sparks well off of Daniel Hall’s confident Algernon. Personally I was less keen on Riley Jones’ nervy take on Jack, the chemistry with Sophie Mercell’s Gwendolen not quite as pronounced, but they all settle better into a second half which is great fun.
Harriet Earle’s take on Lady Bracknell impressively downplays many of the famous lines but doesn’t quite come off with enough domineering haughtiness to merit the fear she inspires in the other characters. Still, it’s a lively enough take on a play which really does bear the repeated viewings.