June theatre round-up

I might have taken a break from reviewing in June, but I didn’t stop going to the theatre – I had too many things already booked in. Here’s some brief thoughts on what I saw.

Betrayal, Harold Pinter
Shit-Faced Shakespeare – Hamlet, Barbican
The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek By Jowl at the Barbican
Somnium, Sadler’s Wells
Les Damnés, Comédie-Française at the Barbican
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Theatre Royal Bath
Blithe Spirit, Theatre Royal Bath
The Hunt, Almeida
Present Laughter, Old Vic
Europe, Donmar Warehouse
The Deep Blue Sea, Minerva
Plenty, Chichester Festival Theatre
Pictures of Dorian Gray, Jermyn Street
The Light in the Piazza, Royal Festival Hall
J’Ouvert, Theatre503
Hair of the Dog, Tristan Bates Continue reading “June theatre round-up”

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Tara Arts

Two Gents reimagine Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest like never before at Tara Arts

“I remembered the line”

In so many ways, it is a real shame that it is only now, after Classic Spring’s year-long West End Oscar Wilde season, that we’re seeing theatre companies finally showing some real invention and daring in reinterpreting his work. For all their star-studded casts, these were largely faithfully traditional renditions that did little to stir any real excitement.

To be fair, these aren’t plays that lend themselves easily to being lifted out of their very specific social milieu. But equally, it is difficult to get too enthused about endless identikit revivals. Which is a long-winded way of saying I was most excited to go see Two Gents and Tara Arts’ production of The Importance of Being Earnest which remakes the show as a two-hander for 2 British-African women. Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Tara Arts”

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville

Sexed-up rather than subtle, I can’t help but be won over by this fresh take on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville Theatre

“I hope you have not been leading a double life…that would be hypocrisy”

I find it increasingly hard to get too excited about the prospect of Oscar Wilde these days, hence having been a rare visitor indeed to Classic Spring’s year-long residency at the Vaudeville. My problem is that, as with Noël Coward’s work, there’s an insistence on the specificity of its staging which means it is far too easy to feel like you’ve seen it all before, silk pyjamas, bustles, handbags, the lot. So the notion that Michael Fentiman’s The Importance of Being Earnest has ruffled a few feathers by daring to do something different, plus the kind of casting that I could never resist, meant that I had to see for myself.

And ultimately, there’s something laughable in the idea that there’s only the one way to do Wilde. It’s more that ‘certain people’ prefer it done the way they’ve always seen it done, which is all well and good (if soul-destroying) but to bemoan a lost art because someone is finally ringing the changes? Shove a cucumber sandwich in it mate. What’s even funnier is that you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference really, it’s not as if this production is set in space, or it’s being mimed, or it’s been directed in a…European way. It has just had a good shaking down, the dust blown off the manuscript, the cobwebs swept from the velvet curtains, and an enjoyable freshness thus brought to proceedings which are sexed-up rather than subtle. Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville”

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Brockley Jack

“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.  Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Brockley Jack”

Review: A Woman of No Importance, Vaudeville

“The world is made for men, not for women”

Does the world really need more Oscar Wilde? A whole season’s worth? One of the less inspiring decisions of the year was this takeover of the Vaudeville by the Classic Spring Theatre Company. Perhaps aware of this, Dominic Dromgoole has identified something the world really does need more of – Eve Best in our theatres (and later in the season, Kathy Burke directing). But is that enough to mitigate the resuscitation of this lesser-performed work.

Well almost. There’s no pretending that A Woman of No Importance is a particularly great play which has been languishing unfairly in the doldrums. But it does have the bonus of being a women-heavy play and one with an intriguingly strong thread of feminist thought to it. After a dalliance that resulted in a child, Mrs Arbuthnot’s social ruin is contrasted with Lord Illingworth’s consequence-free escape but 20 years down the line with their son all grown up, their paths cross again. Continue reading “Review: A Woman of No Importance, Vaudeville”

Full cast of A Woman of No Importance announced

Despite having little interest in a season of Oscar Wilde plays, the predictably excellent cast for A Woman of No Importance means that my resistance will be utterly futile as the full cast joining the previously announced Eve Best from 6th October at the Vaudeville Theatre has now been announced.

Joining Best is Anne Reid, Eleanor Bron and William Gaunt, and now completing the cast is Emma Fielding, Dominic Rowan, Crystal Clarke, Harry Lister-Smith, Sam Cox, William Mannering, Paul Rider and Phoebe Fildes.


Directed by Dominic Dromgoole, the play is the first in his new company’s year-long season celebrating the work of Irish playwright Oscar Wilde and it has also been announced that a series of talks will take place before certain performances of A Woman of No Importance. Oscar Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland will give the first pre-show talk on 14th October, offering an insight into Wilde’s life and work. On 19th October, Stephen Fry will reflect on his time plying Oscar Wilde in the 1997 film Wilde. On 11th November, Frank McGuinness will consider Wilde alongside Ibsen and Strindberg in ‘Wilde the European’, and on 7th December, Franny Moyle will explore “Wilde’s women.”


Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple”

On the other side of the Strand, Sondheim is telling us “you gotta get a gimmick” in Gypsy and so it is across the road at the Vaudeville with the second major production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest to hit the West End in (just) under a year. Lucy Bailey’s am-dram take last summer featured a company of older actors and taking that gauntlet, Adrian Noble’s production has a cross-dressing David Suchet as Lady Bracknell. My full review is now live on Official Theatre but suffice to say that I still find the pilfering of already-scarce roles for older women problematic. 

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with 2 intervals)
Booking until 7th November

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Harold Pinter Theatre

“It wouldn’t be like this at the National”

Does the West End really need another straight production of Oscar Wilde’s old war horse The Importance of Being Earnest? Apparently not, as the new productions lined up each have their own spin – 2015 will see David Suchet take on the role of the redoubtable Lady Bracknell for Adrian Noble and 2014 sees Lucy Bailey impose her own conceit onto the show which allows her to gather an ensemble of more seasoned professionals than might normally be expected to take on this play.

That she does with the help of extra material written by Simon Brett which sees this starry cast take on the mantle of am-dram society The Bunbury Company of Players who in turn, are putting on their take on Wilde’s play as part of their summer season. So before Algernon and Jack have even taken to the stage, we’ve been inducted into the mini-dramas of the company themselves – Nigel Havers’ lothario now having an affair with a third woman in the group, Siân Phillips and Patrick Godfrey’s long-married couple fussing and bickering, Cherie Lunghi’s would-be diva complaining about her costume not fitting… The scene thus seems set for a melding of onstage and offstage drama which would bring something new to this old classic.  Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Harold Pinter Theatre”

Review: De Profundis, Leicester Square Theatre

“Hang the night with stars so that I may wait abroad in the darkness without stumbling”

It is rather pleasing to see that the winner of a new musical theatre prize – inspiringly named the New Musical Project – is something that tests the boundaries of what we conventionally see labelled as musicals and hopefully will inspire others to consider more adventurous work. The winner of the inaugural prize was De Profundis, Paul Dale Vickers’ adaptation of the letter written by Oscar Wilde from his prison cell in Reading jail to his lover Lord Alfred Douglas, the man who helped to put him there.

As such, it forms a musical monologue, just shy of an hour as Wilde recounts the state of affairs that has led him here, the hurts inflicted on him by Bosie, Bosie’s father and an unflinchingly moralistic society that has broken up his own family. But he also speaks of the power of love, and with typically philosophical élan, even forgiveness as he explores the more spiritual dimension of the punishment he has been forced to endure. It would certainly help to know a little of the circumstances in advance but this is powerful material regardless.

Continue reading “Review: De Profundis, Leicester Square Theatre”

Review: Ernest, Etcetera Theatre

“This is a match that I wouldn’t encourage
Gwen wants a man, not a piece of lost luggage”

Musical adaptations of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest actually have a strong pedigree as a rather smashing version played at the Riverside Studios a couple of years ago but it is now the turn of Phil Jacobs to have his own stab as The All in One Theatre Company present his take on Ernest at Camden’s Etcetera Theatre. Filleted down to a single sprightly hour and liberally sprinkled with musical interludes, it is an undoubtedly chirpy and charming take on the story which ought to feel at home on fringes and in festivals across the land.

Jacobs has kept the basic structure of the play, in which Jack Worthing invents a roguish persona called Ernest in order to secure the hand of the fragrant Gwendolen Fairfax who will only marry a man of said name but finds his plans led awry by the arrival of his friend Algernon Moncrieff who is also posing as Ernest, in order to win the heart of Jack’s ward Cecily Cardew. A framing device of a modern version of Jack delving into the world of role-playing games doesn’t really pay off but nor does it really affect matters as Pamela Schermann’s production steams merrily on.

 

Samuel Harris provides an excellent anchoring strength as Jack, sweet of voice and lithe of stage presence, he is consistently good in a production that sees him rarely leave the stage but he is best when bouncing off of Linford Hyde’s louche muffin-munching Algernon. Hyde’s delivery is brilliantly done, almost cattish in its sharpness and comicly timed to perfection – a line about cufflinks is surely one of the funniest of the year. Ella Duncan’s spirited Cecily is good fun and whilst Cassandra Foster’s Gwendolen is prissily fine, she does play it a little straighter than the others. 

Continue reading “Review: Ernest, Etcetera Theatre”