A few niggles, but it’s good to go Wilde again

GREAT characters, sparkling dialogue, gloriously-improbable plot twists, romance, The Importance of Being Earnest has it all.

GREAT characters, sparkling dialogue, gloriously-improbable plot twists, romance and a scarcity of cucumbers, The Importance of Being Earnest has it all.

Classics are wonderful for audiences because they know what they are getting. It’s like revisiting an old friend – particularly one as witty and entertaining as Earnest. But, for directors and actors the approach of some old friends is somewhat of a mixed blessing. You do eventually have a good time in his company but he does take a little getting used to and occasionally you may get the feeling he has got nothing new to offer you.

I suspect this was going through several minds at the New Wolsey as it staged what turned out to be a very polished and highly enjoyable production of the Oscar Wilde classic.

It has to be said that at the beginning the largely-young cast were having trouble getting their tongues around some of Wilde’s more convoluted phraseology. I suspect director Ellie Jones had impressed upon them that pace was very important, but first-night nerves, challenging dialogue and young actors unused to such vocal complexities created an opening scene that was gabbled rather than finely paced.

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Happily, by the time Lady Bracknell and Gwendoline arrived everything in the house and on-stage was under control.

The Importance of Being Earnest, like all of Wilde’s comedies, requires a pointed but very light touch. Lizzy McInnery (Lady Bracknell) and Michael Fenton Stevens (Dr Chasuble) showed the less experienced members of the cast that less can indeed be more.

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Nelly Harker made a wonderfully wide-eyed Cecily who contrasted nicely with Esther, Ruth Elliott’s more worldly Gwendolin Fairfax – although everyone was in danger of being upstaged by Matthew Woodyatt’s brace of brilliantly-conceived butlers, Lane and Merriman.

The set by Dawn Allsopp was ingenious and was suitably bright and airy – the settings are almost additional characters in the play – transforming, with the help of some well-placed folding doors and blinds, from a London townhouse to a conservatory in the country in the blink of an eye.

It was great to be back at the New Wolsey for the start of a new season and this was a terrific way to entice us back after the long summer break.

It was a splendid evening and proved once again that ultimately you never tire of spending time with an old friend like Earnest.

Andrew Clarke

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