The Importance of Being Earnest, Theatre Royal Bath

JS65636254OSCAR Wilde’s classic The Impor­t­ance of Being Earnest has been described as the “perfect comedy” and is certainly one of the most enduringing popular shows on the English-speaking stage.

Edith Evans is thought to have nailed Lady Bracknell for all time with her iconic interrogation “a handbag?” and directors and actors have sought in vain for new ways to deliver the line.

Until now.

David Suchet as Lady BracknellOutside Bath Theatre Royal this week is a large photograph of Lady B, resplendent in feathered hat. On Monday a couple of holidaymakers walking past went up to it  and one said to the other. “That’s extraordinary. That woman looks just like David Suchet,” and walked on.

If she’d read the words she would have discovered that it WAS Mr Suchet, performing in Adrian Noble’s magnificent production of the play, ending its regional tour in Bath and heading for the West End next week.

This “trivial comedy for serious people” is SO often performed, by both professional and amateur companies, that it runs the real and present danger of old chestnuthood. Well known actors take it out on the road as a “bums on seats” certainty.

This production kicks any idea of tired complacency into the longest grass. It is a delight from start to finish, and if most of Monday’s packed Bath audience had come to cheer for Hercule Poirot in a frock, they were rapidly enfolded in Wilde’s brilliant wit, each familiar line given due weight and often fresh meaning.

earnest_prod_1_1Above all it’s FUN. Jack and Algy’s friendly physical banter is timeless, Miss Prism’s flirtatious devotion for the racy Chasuble hilarious, Cecily’s rude teenage determination totally convincing, Gwendolen’s superiority  suitably arch ….

And then there is Lady B, who does it all with a wicked giggle. Did you ever think of her as a giggler? No. Perfectly poised in a corset that changes attention from the spats to the set of the head, this Lady Bracknell is the stuff of legend.

There are only a handful of seats left at Bath, before this perfect production opens for a five-month run at the Vaudeville.

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