A night at the theatre can always seem a somewhat daunting experience for a working class youth, although the bar tends to help with that. But that’s not the case when going to see ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, Oscar Wilde’s late-Victorian comedy masterpiece. Wilde’s play is a magnificent lampoon of Victorian values and the hypocrisies of upper class life.
The play centres around two friends, the respectable Jack Worthing and the aristocratic playboy Algernon Moncrieff, who create fictitious personas for themselves to escape the dull trivialities that their social class demands of them. As the play progresses, they use these personas in their pursuit of love.
The first surprise is that the roles of Jack and Algernon are reprised by Martin Jarvis (‘Titanic’, ‘Eastenders’) and Nigel Havers (‘Chariots of Fire’, ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Coronation Street’), who first played these roles back in 1981. Some people might scoff at the fact that men in their 60’s and 70’s were lined up to play characters in their 20’s but in reality the casting works perfectly.
They use their age to their advantage and get some of the night’s biggest laughs. The age of the cast isn’t out of character with Wilde’s writing. It’s just another added layer of silliness to the original play, which was written as a farce to begin with.
As charming and hilarious as the two leads are, the show is expectedly stolen by the BAFTA-winning Siân Phillips in her role as the domineering, snobbish dragon, Lady Bracknell. This role could not have been played any better. Phillips perfectly captured the absurdity of Victorian high society in her performance as Lady Bracknell, who was written by Wilde as the embodiment of Victorian trivialities and snobbery.
The set was designed to look like a Victorian lounge with a garden outside, decorated with bright and colourful flowers. The set looked fantastic, although I would’ve liked to have seen more diversity on set rather than use the same design for all three acts, including Act Two when the inside of the house was used as a garden. Although, this is somewhat cherry-picking and the fact the longue was used as the garden was played for comedic effect.
Added material was written for the start of the play by Simon Brett, and whilst some might say that Oscar Wilde didn’t need a co-writer, much of the additional material was humorous. But I came to see a performance of Oscar Wilde’s magnum opus and I really wasn’t disappointed. It’s a play I’ve read a dozen times and I laughed more at the lines tonight than I ever have. The show first premiered in 1895 and the fact it is as funny today as it was then shows both the timelessness of its content and the continued relevance of its satire.