Review: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, Gallery Players, at Sir John Mills Theatre until Saturday.

Liam Gregory as Algy and Ed Crosthwaite as Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest

Liam Gregory as Algy and Ed Crosthwaite as Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest - Credit: Archant

Wilde’s theatrical swan song is linguistic perfection and Gallery Players have taken it to their hearts. The epigrams tumble over the carefully-structured pungent wit in an unbroken line of brilliance as the author satirises every aspect of the society that closeted him, hoisted him and eventually tore him down.

Phil Cory as Doctor Chasuble and Helen Clarke as Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest

Phil Cory as Doctor Chasuble and Helen Clarke as Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Earnest - Credit: Archant

There is no word out of place and, no matter how well you know this play, you are always waiting for the next line and the endless magic that makes you laugh. Wilde called it a trivial comedy for serious people but he made absolutely sure there was nothing ordinary or commonplace anywhere in it.

Liam Gregory as Algy, Molly Scurrell as Cecily, Emily Bennett as Gwendoline and Ed Crosthwaite as Ja

Liam Gregory as Algy, Molly Scurrell as Cecily, Emily Bennett as Gwendoline and Ed Crosthwaite as Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest - Credit: Archant

Director Helen Leeder has moved the timing forward into the 1920s with a dash of Scott Joplin ragtime, some very pretty short dresses (though not too brief), plus fours, flash cricket flannels and blazers and the whole thing fizzes like a jazz age party.

It is all played out on about as minimal a set as you can get – four chairs and lots of cucumber sandwiches - which puts the onus completely on the players and they are right on the button. Leeder’s production is neatly choreographed pastiche, everyone self-consciously stylish, often moving with a silkiness that mirrors the words they are batting so cleverly back and forth.

The play requires two leading men and two leading ladies who spark off each other and Gallery Players have picked well. Liam Gregory and Edmund Crossthwaite as Algy and Jack, friends one moment, nastily daggers drawn the next, find the characters handsomely. So do Molly Scurrell and Emily Bennett as Cecily and Gwendolen, the girls determined to marry a man called Ernest.


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Seldom still, the four are full of icky romance, false smiles, icy insults and the sinuous moves of angry snakes. Tanya White’s Lady Bracknell is precise of speech, wears hats that would dazzle Ascot and manages to put her own twist on the famous ‘handbag’ line.

Helen Clarke has a lot of fun as Miss Prism, now suffused with late love but who carelessly mislaid a baby for 28 years. As her admirer, Phil Cory’s Dr Chasuble is a delight of barely contained clerical passion and Peter Phillips doubles as a couple of butlers with sombre aplomb. Great stuff.

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David Henshall.

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