Pros: It goes without saying that Wilde’s script is genius, and there is some wonderful talent among the cast.
Cons: Overall, the production falls a bit flat.
I was first given a copy of The Importance of Being Earnest by an actor friend in New York. She described it as one of her favourite plays of all time, and it soon became one of mine. First performed in 1895, the script really has stood the test of time and is a wonderful example of Oscar Wilde’s wit and humour. You can understand, then, why I was looking forward to the Tower Theatre Company’s production of this timeless play. Unfortunately, I left feeling slightly underwhelmed.
The Bridewell Theatre is an old fashioned joint, close to Fleet Street, with a cosy bar and a large comfortable auditorium. The costumes were excellent and the set design was simple but effective, changing in each interval to create an evocative new scene.
The play opens in Algernon’s (Murray Deans) front room in Mayfair. His friend John Worthing (Bernard Brennan) arrives and confesses to using the alter ego of his brother ‘Ernest’ as an excuse to escape his social commitments in the country and come up to London. Algie cottons on to Worthing’s double life and uses this to his advantage. The ensuing events are ridiculous and hilarious in their absurdity. The script really is remarkable in its ability to be simultaneously frivolous and insightful.
Bernard Brennan plays a likeable and well-judged Worthing, while Helen McCormack is a wonderfully formidable Lady Bracknell. Murray Deans’ Algie is hard to like – he certainly has talent and the effort he puts into the role is undeniable, but it is this very effort that makes the character unbelievable. Special mention must go to Karen Walker who plays an intelligent and provocative Miss Prism. I particularly enjoyed the relationship between her and Ian Recordon’s Reverend Chasuble.
The problem with a play like The Importance of Being Earnest is that it is all too easy for the actors to hide behind the absurdity of their characters. There are some genuinely funny moments and promising displays of talent, but overall the production falls a bit flat. This is because the relationships are not convincing. After all, this is meant to be a play about romantic struggle, but the closest anyone comes to genuine sexual charge is in the relationship between Miss Prism and the Reverend.
While this play is a trivial comedy about the duality of identity, the script holds a duality in itself. With the frivolity of comedy comes a darker side of loss, with the humour comes astute observations about human nature. I am afraid that this production did not do the nuances of this timeless work complete justice.
Author: Oscar Wilde
Director: Martin Mulgrew
Set Design: Jude Chalk and Bernard Brennan
Costume Design: Haidee Elise
Booking Link: http://www.towertheatre.org.uk/tibe.htm
Booking Until: 4 March 2017