WORD has it that Dramatic Productions’ latest show, Oscar Wilde’s enduring comedy The Importance of Being Earnest was beset with problems with both actors and director unavoidably dropping out.
A play that should have been an absolute joy to rehearse must have had some exceedingly anxious moments. It was clear from Dramatic Productions’ opening night that there are still a number of difficulties that need ironing out.
Wilde’s trivial comedy for serious people, as I believe he himself called it, is, above all, a play of witty dialogue which requires a certain consistency in its delivery. It can be, but certainly does not need to be, played for laughs or accompanied by buffoonery. Unfortunately, the director, in allowing certain of his actors to play their roles in a traditional comedy-of-manners fashion also allowed others the freedom to exaggerate.
The result was not wholly effective.
In his role as Algernon, Tomm Barber-Duffy looked every inch the somewhat smarmy, well-to-do English gentleman of the late 19th, early 20th century. Although, initially, his delivery was rather too quick and sotto voce even for a small studio theatre, things soon settled down; his scene in Act 2, for example, in which he flirts with and ultimately proposes to the charming Cecily was an absolute joy. Wilde’s humour was allowed to flow effortlessly while we in the audience we able to sit back and chuckle. Unfortunately his opposite number, Simon Jay, as Jack, played for laughs. He did not come across as anything like distinguished enough, and his curious hairstyle and ill-fitting costume must have done little to help him slip into his role. His facial expressions in particular seemed too much a part of the twenty-first century to be convincing.
Celia Muir as Gwendolen used her naturally expressive face to far better effect. The tea party scene was particularly well done, her growing, mannered disdain for the altogether gentler Cecily, played by Anna Newcome, being well controlled. However, here too, there was some unevenness and, on occasion, the latter’s performance drifted too far into the present day. Not so with Patricia Garwood, who, as Lady Bracknell, was glorious throughout. Here we had an experienced actress clearly enjoying every minute in one of Wilde’s most joyous roles. There was an assurance and an extraordinary freshness in her delivery that made even the most familiar throwaway lines sparkle and shine.
Jon Evans as both Merriman (Algernon’s man) and Lane (Jack’s man) – which might have made things a bit confusing for members of the audience who did not know the play- was a delight with an altogether natural sense of comic timing. Julia Savill as Miss Prism and Mervyn Stutter as Canon Chasuble, despite an exceedingly dodgy dog collar, were similarly convincing and accomplished.
Visually, some of the costumes and furnishings were a bit of a mish-mash and in need of a rather more critical eye. In a performing space where there is no curtain, for example, the audience has a lot of time to look around before the play begins. Alas, the set for Act 1 was not an unmitigated success. The choice of music, too, was odd. William Walton’s Façade, which began each of the acts, is a 1920’s pastiche while the play itself was presumably set a couple of decades earlier. Again, more attention to this sort of detail was needed.
You can catch Earnest on Friday 3rd, or at two performances on Saturday 4th October.