The Importance Of Being Earnest Is Wildely Amusing

The Importance Of Being Earnest, Vaudeville Theatre ★★★★☆

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 7 months ago

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The Importance Of Being Earnest Is Wildely Amusing The Importance Of Being Earnest, Vaudeville Theatre 4
Photo: Marc Brenner

Classic Spring's year-long tribute to Oscar Wilde ends on a high with a cheekily revisionist version of his comic masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest. This perfectly constructed 'Trivial comedy for serious people' glitters with some of Wilde's wittiest epigrams, but despite its seemingly superficial content the play is a slyly subversive satire on oppressive Victorian values of which the author himself soon fell victim.

What this production does is to make the subtext more overt, decoding the homoerotic elements that reflected Wilde's own double life as a gay, married man with children. Here, Algernon and Jack are clearly bisexual, while even Algernon's veteran butler Lane is happy to oblige him, with a picture on the wall of naked men wrestling setting the tone.

But the sexual frustrations of the young ladies Gwendolen and Cecily also find release in their assertive behaviour towards the men, in a show that suggests that the class hierarchy of masters and servants is not so rigidly secure in a society riddled with repression and hypocrisy.

Photo: Marc Brenner

Not everyone will like this alternative take on Wilde's sophisticated farce by director Michael Fentiman, backed by Madeleine Girling's uncluttered design. It's not subtle or elegant, with some of the funny business overdone — food gets stuffed down people's mouths and some lines missing their mark — but its refreshingly irreverent approach proves irresistibly entertaining. The excellent cast includes Sophie Thompson giving a hilariously eccentric performance as the formidable Lady Bracknell.

Sadly, though the highlight of his dramatic career, the play closed early after Wilde was sent to prison for 'gross indecency' — but within a year of his premature death it was revived and since then has rarely been absent from the stage for long. Wilde had the last laugh.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, London WC2R 0NH. £19.50-£75. Until 20 October.

Last Updated 06 August 2018