The Importance of Being Earnest really ought to be performed at 5pm over afternoon tea. It is, after all, the zenith of urbane, Victorian high society farce and dwells at length on Lady Bracknell’s love of a good cucumber sandwich.
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With the romantic futures of Algernon and Jack resting on the artful untangling of the lies they’ve been weaving for years, to say nothing of the small matter of a three volume novel and a misplaced handbag, Earnest is a delicious morsel of light entertainment that rests easy on the digestive system.
The London Classic Theatre company who specialise in, well, classic theatre have been touring the production all over the UK. As a result, the show is spartan in presentation, a semi-circle of comfortable period chairs picking out the edge of the actors’ working area with manservants Lane and Merriman (both played by Jonathan Ashley) spending much of the evening hovering behind characters with chair in hand, often for comic effect.
The technique works well in the limited space and gives momentum to scenes that can otherwise feel quite stilted when the characters have so many wordy lines and withering asides to deliver.
But or all the neat physical touches, director Michael Cabot could have pushed his actors further in their examination of character’s motives and expressing them. Laoisha O’Callaghan seemed unsure of the tone and manner Prism should take.
Ashley Cook and Paul Sandys, as leads Algernon and Jack respectively, take their time warming into their parts, their comic timing lagging behind their lines in the opening act. However, the pair got into their wayward parts aided by confident turns from Judith Paris, Helen Keeley and Helen Phillips, as Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew. The trio really got to grips with the glorious lines author Oscar Wilde has for women. Phillip’s portrayal of the flirtatious, fanciful Cardew was engaging and energetic while Keeley and Paris’s turns as mother and daughter were convincing.