THE Bunbury Company of Players, typical of so many amateur companies the length and breadth of England, has been performing Anthony Scottney’s production of Oscar Wilde’s “perfect comedy”, The Importance of Being Earnest, for decades.
Save for one newly deceased member of their number, the cast has remained the same throughout the years, and has now come together again to rehearse, squabble, romance, drink and perform those immortal lines now etched on their memories.
So they may not be in the bloom of youth – the 29 year old John Worthing won’t see 55 again, and his 18 year old ward is approaching her half century – but anyone who has enjoyed am drams over the years will know that is very much the norm.
Now a new production, magnificently staged on William Dudley’s authentically art deco set and directed by Lucy Bailey, is on tour and in Bath until 27th September.
London critics hated it, but I suspect they spend little time in the village halls of the land, so they just might have missed the point.
Martin Jarvis and Nigel Havers play the libidinous Richard Oldfield and actor/director Scottney with huge gusto, dashing through their lines at break-neck speed, spicing up their moves with little dances and never losing a beat. That’s what the pros do.
Reigning supreme is Sian Phillips as Lavinia Spellman/Lady Bracknell – the grande dame that every society boasts – practising her “handbag” line with chutzpah. Niall Buggy is a marvellous Canon Chasuble.
Comparing it unfavourably to Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is a bit unfair – Wilde was there before him, and several of Monday’s Bath audience were remembering the (1952) film, with Edith Evans, Margaret Rutherford et al.
It is a gentle and accurate look at how many societies tackle the comedy classics, and everyone, cast and audience, has enormous fun. Perhaps on this occasion, it’s important not to be too earnest at all.