Arguably Oscar Wilde’s best loved and most well known play, The Importance of Being Earnest, is at once a sharply observed social satire and at the same time, a piece of entirely frivolous comic fun. Just about every other line is a comedy gem and many of the observations about the foibles of the human condition still resonate today.
It’s true we don’t consume such quantities of cucumber sandwiches these days, but we still deceive each other, annoy each other and fall in love with each other. Our class system is as much based on celebrity as aristocracy, but we still want to know where we stand in our world and money still means power. And we do like to gossip about other people.
Lady Bracknell contemplates her muffins
This fast, fun, frothy version by Heartbreak Productions proceeds at a cracking pace and there is barely a moment to digest the last witticism when the next is upon you.
The setting is a party held in the flapper era of the 1920’s. As well as an opportunity for some lovely costumes and the insertion of a Charleston or two, the carefree party spirit suits Wilde to a tee.
The outdoor setting was the lovely Jesmond Dene in Newcastle once again, and the rain troubled only one of the four high octane performances here, albeit very briefly.
A handbag would have been preferable
Jack Worthing, the play’s protagonist, is a pillar of the community in Hertfordshire, where he is guardian to Cecily Cardew, the pretty, eighteen-year-old granddaughter of the late Thomas Cardew, who found and adopted Jack when he was a baby. For years, Jack has also pretended to have an irresponsible black-sheep brother named Earnest who leads a scandalous life in pursuit of pleasure and is always getting into trouble of a sort that requires Jack to rush off to his assistance. In fact, Ernest is merely Jack’s alibi, a phantom that allows him to disappear for days at a time and do as he likes. No one but Jack knows that he himself is Earnest. Earnest is the name Jack goes by in London, where he is probably up to no good at all.
Temporarily Being Earnest
Algernon Moncrieff is Jack’s best friend and a confirmed Bunburyist. Bunbury is an imaginary invalid friend, not unlike Jack’s Earnest, who also provides a jolly good excuse to get out of things for Algernon when required.
Suffice to say everyone either wants to be Earnest or is in love with Earnest and Earnest does not appear to actually exist! Cue lots of opportunity for mistaken identities and complete confusion. Jack who pretends to be Earnest is in love with Gwendolen, lady Bracknell’s daughter. Algernon, who pretends to be Earnest is in love with Cecily, and neither girl seems able to contemplate matrimony with anyone who is not of that epithet.
Gwendolin is as right as a trivet!
Arthur Velarde makes an admirable Jack/Earnest and does ‘tortured aristocrat’ very well. You do feel rather sorry for him when you find out about his origins in a handbag in the cloakroom at the station, but he appears more bemused than bitter.
Earnest is dead! Or is he?
Ross Townsend Green makes a smashing Algernon, the frivolous over dressed and overeducated Oxonian. This character is as close to Wilde’s own as any, right down to his bad credit and his tendancy to proritise entertainment and frivolity over anything ‘serious’ whatsoever. Ross also doubles as Miss Prism the culpable governess and is equally funny in this role. I did think there was a little bit of chanelling his inner Larry Grayson going on there. (google him)
Love blooms for Miss Prism
Yvette Bruin is a suitably robust and formidable Lady Bracknell who does have an awful lot of the best lines, including the one about the handbag.
I very much liked Lottie Johnson as Cecily. The combination of seemingly total dottiness concealing an absolute determination to get exactly what she wants, was just the right sort of charming.
Don’t even think about Bunburying me!
Tania Staite was a very good Gwendolen making the most of every opportunity for physical comedy even when she didn’t have an awful lot of lines.
Party like it’s 1929!
There are some lovely songs (Ain’t Misbehaving) and energetic dancing of the Charleston to round off proceedings, which always finishes the performance on an uplifting note.
Say it with a song!
There’s never much standing about in Heartbreak Shows. Everyone gives 100% energy all the time. Wilde’s sharp dialogue and his best crafted play, was excellently served by another superb production and cast. It’s worth anybody’s ready money to go and see, and is still touring the UK at various gorgeous outdoor venues. Find out where they are next at Heartbreak Productions