Eating muffins quite delightfully
david suchet

The Importance of Being Earnest

Malvern Theatres


A packed house coming with the positive intention and expectation of being wonderfully entertained by one of their favourite plays was duly rewarded at Malvern last night.

The audience know the play well, are in anticipation of their favourite lines, and are thoroughly satisfied as they are delivered with aplomb by a talented cast in a very lively performance.

Wilde’s classic is a tremendous repository of witty lines and repartee in a substantially farcical story that is artificially exaggerated to maximise the hilarity. Two playful young men adopt false names to indulge their thirst for pleasure, in town or country respectively, but they end up in a tangle because they have both adopted the same alias. ‘Your Christian names are still an insuperable barrier!’

This farcical scenario gives rise to countless witty lines and subtle social commentary: ‘Never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that!’

As the curtain goes up we are faced with a majestic and classical set. There is in each of the three sets – Algernon’s flat in London, Worthing’s garden and lastly Worthing’s living room – a symmetry and classical balance that reflects much of the dialogue and the action of the play.

The design is imposing and rich, and just as the dialogue repeatedly offers us balancing comments (Gwendolen: ‘My poor wounded Cecily!’ and Cecily: ‘My sweet wronged Gwendolen!’), so the set offers us beautiful and balancing arrangements of bookcases, flower displays and portraits.   ‘In matters of importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing,’ says Gwendolen and that is reflected in the design as well as the characterisation and dialogue.

The production centres on the casting of David Suchet as Lady Bracknell. His modulated voice works very well, his powerful and imposing presence is essential to the success of the character, his use of the lingering gaze and facial expressions delighted the audience, who manifestly love him anyway, and it all added to the measure of farce in the style of the whole show. The play is wordy as well as witty, and the director and cast ensured that there was plenty of movement around the stage to maintain a strong vibrancy and energy.

The contrast between the sophisticated Gwendolen, played with great poise and polish by Emily Barber, and Cecily (Imogen Doel), with her more childish and fantasising personality, is very effective. This Cecily is quite impish and cheeky! Alongside Michael Benz (John Worthing) and Philip Cumbus (Algernon Moncrieff), the clarity, projection and pace was excellent. There were some lovely and creative touches: when arguing over the muffins, Algernon bites the muffin out of Worthing’s hand in a lovely touch that brought the house (and themselves) down.

Michelle Dotrice (Miss Prism) and Richard O’Callaghan (Canon Chasuble) provided a lovely, giggly pair whose physical mannerisms added great humour to the lines they spoke. Overall the cast managed to wring every bit of expressive juice out of the lines and enrich the production with variety and creativity.

Adrian Noble’s brilliant production was rapturously received, and the great crispness and sharpness of definition in design, delivery and movement will ensure that it should be enthusiastically welcomed wherever it goes. It is a classical interpretation of a classic with sparkling innovative touches! To 30-05-15

Timothy Crow



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