Wednesday 1 July 2015

The Importance of Being Earnest

Theatre Royal, Nottingham (prior to Vaudeville)
16th May, 2015, matinee

In a 2013 poll made by the English Touring Theatre, Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest was voted one the nation’s favourite plays. It’s easy to see why in Adrian Noble’s well-realised production, starring David Suchet as Lady Bracknell, which has opened on tour before transferring to the Vaudeville.

The plot of mistaken identities and two deceptive bachelors may be frivolous but is deliciously funny. And although Noble doesn’t offer anything new like Lucy Bailey did last year, he solidly allows for the relevance of Wilde’s aphorisms and satirising of the superficial Victorian upper classes to ring through. ‘We live, I regret, in an age of surfaces’ can refer to today as much as it does to Victorian pomposity.

David Suchet may be testing a different set of acting muscles for the role of Lady Bracknell compared to his roles in All My Sons and Long Day’s Journey into Night but his performance is nuanced and convincing. With his lips pursed and handbag balanced on his wrist, he parades the stage swishing his dress as he walks and articulating like a military general. Interestingly, he places the emphasis of that famous line on the word ‘cloakroom’ rather than ‘handbag’, a suggestion that cloakrooms would have been more scandalous owing to their reputation for cottaging. It’s a detail that is a testament to Noble’s production being one which embraces the play’s high comedy but doesn’t forget its social background. However, the word ‘handbag’ was also well-delivered, if not as stern as other actors’ delivery. Suchet’s comic performance is matched by the rest of the cast which includes Imogen Doel’s feisty Cecily and Philip Cumbus’ Algernon, leaning over the furniture to show his amorous nature.  In fact, Doel’s performance especially remains memorable weeks after I saw it. Finally, Michele Dotrice is extremely enjoyable to watch, the audience lapping up her performance just as much as in The Ladykillers.

The Importance of Being Earnest is playing at the Vaudeville Theatre until 7th November.

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