The Importance of Being Earnest at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium
A short 20-minute train ride from London Thameslink stations can take visitors as far away as the early 20th century, or even further. In the sun-kissed ruins of the Roman open-air theatre of Verulamium, the OVO company holds a summer residency, offering entertaining revisitations of classics, from Shakespeare’s works to Little Women, passing through Jekyll and Hyde and more. The current show is a comedy par excellence by Oscar Wilde, and it’s an exquisitely entertaining production. The dramatic structure is kept for the most part, but the introduction of the characters and transitions between scenes operate via musical numbers, paradoxical, jazzed-up and played with gusto.
Earnest Worthing (Lyle Fulton) wants to marry Gwendolen Fairfax (Emilia Harrild), but her mother, Lady Augusta Bracknell (Anna Franklin), unsure about the man’s family, doesn’t give her consent. In the meantime, Algernon Montcrieff (Charlie Clee), cousin of Gwendolen, pays a visit to the country house of his friend, Earnest. This latter, though, is actually named Jack and uses Earnest both as a pseudonym in town and as an excuse, in the guise of a fictitious brother in London to take care of, in front of his ward Cecily Cardew (Eloise Westwood). It is indeed Cecily whom Algernon is interested in, and to whom he introduces himself as the elusive uncle Earnest. Who and where is the real Earnest?
Wilde’s comedy of exchange lends itself to hilarious sketches. The coordination among the cast members is phenomenal and a winning mechanism for the smooth flow of the play. The show is comprised of varied segments, including singing, dance (including a tap segment) and brief extensions of the stage through the raised ground of the ancient Roman site. If it wasn’t for the brilliant chemistry of the cast and creatives, the different components could have easily fallen apart; Fulton and Clee, in particular, with distinct portrayals, keep up the pace and lead the ensemble’s energy. Guido Garcia Lueches imbues his appearances with farce, while Anna Franklin’s voice is a melodiously bright asset. The costume choices by Delga Martineau sparkle, alternating glitzy and elegant styles. and Simon Nicholas’s set design doesn’t overdo things, rather carefully selecting facades and props that easily shift and assemble for dynamic scenes, creating the country house’s picturesque and tranquil atmosphere. The band vivaciously inserts itself in between, with arrangements of contemporary music with a jazz score (Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance and Lionel Richie’s Hello are among the hits reinterpreted).
Particular praise is due for the matinées performed under the scorching sun of the heatwave, during which the mood remained high and the acting fizzed, energy beaming from the sky and the stage alike.
Photos: Tim Morozzo
The Importance of Being Earnest is at the Roman Theatre of Verulamium from 2nd July until 17th July 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.