The Importance of Being Earnest
Many people will already know The Importance of Being Earnest, the classic satire from Oscar Wilde. This is another one of those plays which have been done numerous times and it’s difficult to see how a new production could shine a new light on it. But the Barn Theatre have added a clever twist in the story adding a further layer of comedy and highlighting the importance of perception in that society.
A play in 3 acts like the original, it starts with the audience being told there’s a slight delay due to “technical difficulties” which you quickly learn is the cast not arriving. The stage manager and producer decide the show must go on and take on two roles to start the show in the hope the cast will arrive soon. This goes well but things go awry when a third character is due to arrive on stage.
It’s starts much as any production of this play would and they stick very closely to the original story meaning you can still enjoy it in the unlikely event you don’t know the original. It maintains the wit of the original, has much the same text and the overall structure is relatively unchanged although we were surprised the handbag line was moved to the first act (and that it wasn’t played on more). But they do take liberties with the script which allows them to maintain having just two characters on stage most of the time.
The play also maintains the satire of upper class society and the associated idiosyncrasies of the original but builds on the perception of hiding and deception through having these two people each play multiple roles. The comedy of the show is enabled by a relatively simple set but which has multiple entrances and exits used to great effect.
What makes this work well is the distinctive characterisations of each person they play, specifically different voices, mannerisms and demeanours. They could probably do the play without costumes and you easily know which person they were portraying (although the costumes are used to great comic effect). The cleverest part is that both actors play Lady Bracknell whom they portray in exactly the same way which is a credit to them both that they can maintain this consistency between them.
Where this slightly falls down is in being the original play mixed with visual, sometimes slapstick comedy, it struggles to figure out exactly where it sits and so at times is unsure where it wants to go or what it wants to be. Personally we would have liked it to focus on bringing out more of the new comedic elements the set up allows. This is where its strength is and we would have liked to have seen more of this angle. It doesn’t prevent it being good but we felt it could have taken this a lot further. But the audience certainly enjoyed it based on the laughter coming through as did we. It is a fun, relaxed show and an easy introduction to Oscar Wilde with plenty of laughs. This gets 3 stars. It’s on at the Turbine Theatre until 29th February and you can buy tickets here: https://turbinetheatre.londontheatrebookings.com/WEBPAGES/EntaWebShow/ShowListAlpha.aspx?LR=10&start=*&LC=10