BEHIND the veneer of wealth, sophistication and entitlement, there’s always been an undertone of seedy hypocrisy among the upper-class.
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Oscar Wilde highlighted this to farcical effect 120 years ago, taking a pop at Victorian values, the irony was apparently lost on the luvvies who saw the show.
In 2015, however, the luvvies are now a pretentious (aging) am-dram group in the middle of rehearsing Wilde’s most enduring play.
At two hours 25 minutes, not only does this play within a play bring Wilde’s trivial satire into the modern day, it’s an inventive concept for utilising the production’s more mature cast. A cast that just so happens to feature some of the best, and most experienced, UK actors alive today.
Reprising roles they first performed together in 1982, Nigel Havers (Algernon Moncrieff/Dicky) and Martin Jarvis (John Worthing/Tony) are in inspired form as the two idle bachelors pretending to be the fictitious Ernest in order to escape tiresome social commitments.
Leading a double-life, though, brings its own problems when the two begin to court the impossibly melodramatic Gwendolyn Fairfax (Carmen Du Sautoy) and self-absorbed Cecily Cardew (Christine Kavanagh). Which all leads, naturally, to an audience with the delightfully despicable Lady Bracknell, played to charismatic effect by Sian Phillips.
Indeed, hearing Phillips utter “A handbag!” is worth the admission price alone.
Given the time period, the broad vocabulary has a beautiful musicality . The set could well be a mansion estate transported from the plusher parts of Hertfordshire, too, and the obvious age differences, widely contrasting between actor and character, don’t matter a jot.
Just like in Wilde’s masterpiece, you can still buy your way into the aristocracy today.
However, laughs aside, the real importance of being earnest lies in its sincerity and conviction.