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The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde

21 - 28 July 2012

Mike Turner

A feast of laughter both for its farcical situations and Wilde's wonderful wit.


Performances

Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm

Synopsis

The Importance of Being Earnest is the best of Wilde's comedies and is probably the best known play in English.

It has some of the wittiest dialogue in the language. Wilde took a group of upper cals characters whose concerns were with money,fashion and manners and set them a series of every day life dilemmas-love, marriage and paternity - which they muddle through whilst continuing their constant search for pleasure. The play is in three acts in London and in the country in the nineteenth century. This play will be a feast of laughter both for its farcical situations and Wilde's wonderful wit.

Director's Notes

It is a challenge to direct such a well known and well written play as The Importance of Being Earnest. Oscar Wilde subtitled it, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. Since it was first performed in London in 1895 it has been one of the most popular plays in the repertoire of international theatre. Most people studied it at school and many have seen it, some of them recently (it has been performed in Lewes earlier this year and there were three productions in the Brighton Festival). So we will be relying on Wilde’s wonderful wit and the talents of our actors to draw in our audiences. I was privileged to direct and present Tom Stoppard’s Travesties (which borrows many aspects of The Importance) at Lewes Little Theatre some years ago and have wanted to direct the original ever since.

The cast includes Meg Depla-Lake who will be remembered for her role as Gertie in Noel and Gertie, Simon Hellyer, who was Marlow in She Stoops to Conquer and St George in our Mummers play and Christine Murphy will give us her Miss Prism. The redoubtable Lady Bracknell is played by Trish Richings who has just impressed us with her playing of the maid in Gaslight whilst Canon Chasuble will played by Lewes stalwart, Barry Smith.

This three act version of Wilde’s play demands three sets and will be performed in period costumes including one made from an 1898 pattern by Anne Turner who will be managing the costumes for this play.

Mike Turner, Director

Review

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest is a timeless and much-loved comic masterpiece. It is a delight from start to finish with Wilde employing high farce and glittering, delicious dialogue in a perfectly observed satire about social status, sense of duty, and keeping up appearances. It wasn’t until 1946 that the play entered the mainstream theatre arena again. Since then there have been countless high profile productions and three film adaptations.

Now Mike Turner and his cast have taken it on. I spoke to Mike on the phone while he was in rehearsal and he said, quite rightly, that the play is to some extent ‘actor proof’ but that he hoped his actors would bring something fresh to the parts. And yes it did feel fresh and exciting, his actors all bringing something particularly their own to these well-loved, well-trodden, perfectly drawn comic characters.

The play begins in Algernon Moncrieff’s drawing room and Wilde immediately sets up what is probably the main theme of the play - that of class status - with Lane, his sardonic man servant, barely concealing his disdain for his young boss. In the famous ‘cucumber sandwiches’ scene Peter Wellby as Lane was pitch perfect and wonderfully poised and Robert Woodbridge, as a puckish Algernon, clearly enjoyed every opportunity to play the mischievous and arrogant qualities the part requires. Enter Jack Worthing, very well played with great detail and gusto by Simon Hellyer.

His amour Gwendoline, played by Meg Depla-Lake delighting in her control over the male species, was perfectly coquettish but with a tough edge which helped to show her to be very much her mother – Lady Bracknell’s - daughter. Lindsey Holledge as Cecily was a very good casting contrast to Gwendoline. Cecily’s earthy practicality was charming and candid and played with confidence and assurance. So now to Lady Bracknell played by Trish Richings. What a wonderful opportunity for any actress and what a tall order. Just how do you tackle probably two of the most famous words ever uttered on the English stage? I refer, of course to, ‘a handbag?’… I really enjoyed the warmth and candour Trish brought to this part and it was a brave choice to hold back on the line, uttering it under her breath with quiet confusion rather than the usual outrage.

This part really is a tour de force full of wordy, bombastic, satirical pronouncements. However the rewards when you get it right are wonderful and Trish pulled it off. To quote Joyce Grenfell she was, appropriately, ‘stately as a galleon’. Barrie Smith as a seedy, but at the same time pious, Chasuble was perfect and proved that ‘there is no such thing as a small part only small actors’. I loved Adrian Bowd as the other put upon but not cowed servant, Merriman. Christine Murphy as Miss Prism was an absolute delight. It is rare, especially with very well-known plays, that an actor can twist lines and surprise you. Her speech describing how she mislaid a baby, absentmindedly placing it in a handbag, was simply wonderful and I can’t imagine it being delivered a lot better.

The audience, both in the interval and at the end of the show, clearly loved seeing this perfect piece of theatre and very much enjoyed the LLT production. In 1895 the actor Allan Aynesworth who first played Algernon Moncrieff said ‘I never remember a greater triumph than that night’. It looked as though Mike Turner’s cast really enjoyed themselves too. Well done Mike Turner for taking this on and pulling it off with aplomb.

Lucie Fitchett