The Importance of Being Earnest at Harold Pinter Theatre
Lucy Bailey’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest is a reimagining of Wilde’s magnificent play. Many Wilde fans would recoil in horror at the idea of such a sublime piece of work being interfered with, and so they should. Bailey’s adaptation has turned a flawless comedy into something which delights the blue rinse brigade, but leaves Wilde enthusiasts cold.
The premise: Bunbury Theatre Company stages a dress rehearsal for The Importance of Being Earnest which they have produced year after year. The need for this background is to justify the ageing actors playing much younger roles. It begs the question what came first, the star-studded yet ageing cast – Nigel Havers, Michael Jarvis and Cherie Lunghi – or this unnecessary and distracting framework.
Whatever the answer is, the result remains the same: the first half of Wilde’s masterpiece is totally destroyed by silly gags about props and a lack of focus on what is universally renowned as a timeless comedy.
The worst part is the fact that in the second half, when the actors drop the daft amateur act and really put their all into the traditional script, the play comes alive and the actors’ ages are totally immaterial.
Cherie Lunghi and Christine Kavanagh’s scene as false-friends Cecily and Gwendolyn is electric and for a blissful half an hour the audience forgets the cringe-worthy subtext and sinks into Wilde’s beautiful and delicate work.
The actors put in a solid performance in the second half and a special mention has to be given to Sian Phillips who plays a fantastically spiky Lady Bracknell. In fact, Phillips is so brilliant at the role that you can imagine her in one of the original casts, except for when she breaks character to tell her husband to straighten up.
The irony is that Wilde’s script does not require young actors for a strong production, as demonstrated in the second half. The imposing framework that Bailey has foisted onto this production overshadows Wilde’s subtle mocking of the upper-class and social commentary, leaving us instead with a slapstick production where the main humour lies in silly gags about lost cucumber sandwiches.
The Importance of Being Earnest is at the Harold Pinter Theatre from 17th July until 20th September 2014. For further information or to book visit the show’s website here.