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Martin Jarvis as John Worthing, in mourning for his brother, the late Ernest Worthing, set to do battle with, er, his very much alive brother . . . Ernest, or at least his friend Algernon, played by Nigel Havers, who is posing as Ernest while Christine Kavanagh as Cecily tries to encourage brotherly love as Rosalind Ayres as Miss Prism watches on.

The Importance of Being Earnest

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry


I’VE SEEN the Beatles, Peter O’Toole’s Macbeth, Dame Margot Fontaine and Rudolf Nureyev dance Romeo and Juliet and now I’ve seen a star-studded cast deliver a steam train of The Importance of Being Earnest.

The production has a cast of amateur actors from The Bunbury Players on a final dress in an elegant, of-the-period house – the set is amazing, it even has a ceiling! – as they have many times before. Cast and character are almost interchangable; for example, twinkling roué Dickie Oldfield aka Algernon Moncrieff (Nigel Havers) is ‘seeing’ Ellen Whitchurch aka Cecily Cardew (Christine Kavanagh) who is also wife to Paul aka Rev. Chasuble (David Shaw-Parker).

In a neat touch, it is their wedding anniversary and he has bought her a HANDBAG! I’ll leave you extras to around Oscar Wilde’s celebrated script immaculately. Martin Jarvis as Tony aka John aka Ernest Worthing arrives on stage as director/player with a ‘light hand on the tiller’.

Beautiful prop business involves the cast devouring every plate of cucumber sandwiches and spoiling the entrance of Lavinia as Lady Bracknell (Sian Phillips). Butler Lane (Nigel Anthony), house owner and husband to Lavinia, is more interested in watching the cricket!

The story? Elegant urbanite Gwendonline Fairfax (Carmen de Sautoy), only daughter to Lady Bracknell, is determined to marry a man called Ernest.

John Worthing, in love with Gwendoline, is Ernest in town and Jack in the country with Ernest as an imaginary brother.

Cecily, Jack’s ‘pretty little ward who is just 18’ in the country, also has a penchant for Ernests and twinkling roué Algernon invites himself to have a look.

Reasons for marriage underlie the play, and Lady Bracknell’s, as she picks a wife for Algernon, is a purely commercial concern. Lady Bracknell has high hopes for Gwendoline and Jack could be anybody, he was found in a handbag at Victoria railway station.

To summarise horribly, Cecily’s governess Miss Prism (Rosalind Ayres), with her eye firmly on Rev. Chasuble, turns out to be the owner of said handbag and so Jack discovers that he is Lady Bracknell’s nephew and Algernon’s elder brother!

This is a must-see production directed by Lucy Bailey and it’s simple maths – first-class play plus first-class actors equals first-class theatre. Brilliant. To 03-10-15.

Jane Howard



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