David Suchet In Drag Shines In Oscar Wilde Classic
Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆
Adrian Noble’s new production of The Importance of Being Earnest reminds us of just how witty Oscar Wilde’s 1895 classic really is. It is the story of two men, Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, who invent brothers and friends so they can escape their social obligations, and of the complications that ensue when they are taken for people they are not. The final difficulty is that Jack’s fiancé Gwendolen believes he is called Ernest, and although she is supposedly devoted to him, her love proves to be conditional upon him bearing that name!
Although the play is very much a satire on late Victorian social values, Noble’s production reminds us of just how relevant many of the jokes still feel. This is partly because some ideas are much older than we might imagine so that when Gwendolen suggests ‘The old-fashioned respect for the young is fast dying out’ she is parodying the perennial claim that respect for one’s elders is disappearing. It is also because, although the power structures underlying them may have changed, many of Wilde’s humorous commentaries concerning relationships carry a certain universal truth.
The piece’s laughs may derive ultimately from the language and exchanges, but Noble also places some emphasis on visual humour. By never pushing this element too far, however, he brings a further dimension to, rather than undermines, the original play.
David Suchet is a class act as Gwendolen’s mother, Lady Bracknell. He is not the first man to have played the part, and his haughty carriage, curl of the lip and priceless articulation surely make him the most upmarket dame ever to have graced a London stage! He also deliberately steers clear of declaring ‘A handbag’ in the same way as Edith Evans did in the 1952 film when she first made the line famous.
When Suchet appears in Act I, everyone else almost instantly adopts the role of ‘straight man’ so that he can bounce off them, but when he is not onstage the rest of the cast prove how funny they can also be. Michael Benz as Jack and Philip Cumbus as Algernon are hilarious as each reflects on how devious the other has been, with Jack’s attempts to remain upstanding contrasting with Algernon’s placing more importance on his liking for muffins! Imogen Doel as Jack’s ward Cecily provides a hilarious portrayal of innocent infatuation, while Emily Barber as Gwendolen carries herself with a delightful sense of elegance coupled with expectancy.
Until 7 November 2015 at the Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, London WC2R 0NH. Tickets (£25-£67.50): 0844 482 9675 or visit The Importance of Being Earnest website. Londonist saw this play on a complimentary ticket.
Last Updated 03 July 2015