Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings


Alex Howell as Algernon, Beth Howell as Cecily, watch David Stonehouse as John, establishing his parentage under the beady eye of Liz Daly as Lady Bracknell, Ellie Ball as Gwendolen and Charlotte Ball as Miss Prism with David Daly as the Rev Chasuble and Andrew Hughes as Merriman behind.

 The Importance of Being Earnest

Mint Theatre Society

Stonnall Village Hall


I have seen Oscar Wilde’s Trivial Comedy for Serious People so many times and know it so well that Earnest, and indeed, Ernest . . . both of them . . . are now old friends welcomed with some affection in this delightful Mint production.

My interest is not so much in the play anymore, witty as it is, but in the players, how, for example, the amoral, witty, selfish and remarkable charming and always broke Algernon is portrayed, or how that upholder of social mores par excellence, Lady Bracknell struts upon the stage.

No worries, they, and the rest, brought Wilde’s characters to life splendidly in what was almost a Daly family affair. Liz plays her ladyship with a haughty air, no battleaxe histrionics, just a confident assurance that she is the beacon of propriety when it comes to all things relating to fashionable society – the rest are merely the lower orders which are of no concern.

Wilde’s well known lines are delivered matter of factly, after all her ladyship is not pontificating or making startling pronouncements, merely stating what she, and anyone she believes is anybody,  sees as self-evident truths.

Her daughter, Gwendolen is played by her real-life daughter Ellie Ball. Gwendolen is in love with Jack, who she believes is Ernest, and like her mother speaks with a self-assured authority on all things fashion and moral, taking pretentiousness to an art form.

Then there is Algernon, Lady Bracknell’s nephew, played splendidly by Alex Howell. He lives a life of hedonistic idleness and Howell has captured his off the cuff view of the world to perfection to the point where we almost agree with his witty musings. Among his passions are cucumber sandwiches and muffins.

jon and Gwen

John and Gwendolen

He has a friend called Bunbury, who lives entirely within his own mind, coming to life, or at least close to death and requiring a visit on a mission of mercy whenever Algernon wants to avoid doing something or fancies a few days out of town – town being of course London.

Set against Algernon’s flamboyant journey through life is his best friend Ernest, at least in London, for Ernest is really John, or Uncle Jack at his home in the country and his fictional brother Ernest when in town. David Stonehouse, who is also the director, seemed a little uncertain in the role initially, first night and directing duties perhaps weighing him down, but soon shakes them off to give a lively performance as the more solid and dependable John.

He has arrived at Algernon’s home to propose to Gwendolen, which all goes well until Lady Bracknell discovers Ernest/John’s parentage seems to be a handbag in the left luggage office of Victoria Station – Brighton Line – and his surname Worthington is merely because the kindly gentleman who was given the handbag in error for his own, and took him in, had a first class ticket for Worthing. Her ladyship was not impressed.

And while John/Ernest and Gwendolen bill and coo, Algernon discovers John’s country address and sets off down there, pretending to be brother Ernest, where he falls in love with John’s ward, the 18-year-old Cecily, played sweetly by Beth Howell.

To any man with any sense, Cecily is a gold plated, 100 per cent nutter, with a diary chronicling her romantic affair with Ernest . . . who she has just met for the first time. Alarm bells would ring in most men, but Ernest/Algernon finds it endearing.

prism and the rev

Miss Prism and the Rev Conon Chasuble

Then there is Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess, played by Charlotte Ball, who is also Liz Daly’s daughter. Miss Prism is, in the context of the play, fairly normal, but with a telling and important secret in her past, which can and does change everything. She is puritanical to the extreme with pronouncements so strait laced as to be a source of amusement.

She harbors romantic, in the most reserved way, feelings for the Rev. Canon Chasuble, D.D, the rector on John’s estate, and he in turn is wooing her, in the most respectable way. The good reverend being played by Liz Daly’s husband David

Serving, or at least putting up with them, is Andrew Hughes, who, moustachioed is Algernon’s manservant in Town, and clean shaven also plays John’s butler Merriman in the country.

The whole play is a sort of sophisticated farce. If you know the play it is always a treat to watch Wilde’s well-constructed plot, if not then it is a delight in what is probably Wilde’s finest and sadly, final play. It was the unintended catalyst for Wilde’s downfall, trial and imprisonment for homosexuality.

Wilde’s wit flows through the play as he debunks and satirises the trivial, shallow conventions of Victorian society where the likes of Berkeley Square had fashionable and unfashionable sides, and women were 35 virtually for life.

It is a beautifully scripted play and with Mint that is virtually all you get. Mint is a small, relatively new company (2016) and somewhat of a rarity, an amateur touring theatre, with no permanent home, which means scenery has to be stored and easily transported to fit on stages unfamiliar with serious theatre.

Stonnall village hall has a low ceiling stage, limited wings and no flies, the next venue is Aldridge Social Club, (22-23 March) with a social club stage more comfortable with comics, karaoke and bingo and then on to Britwell Hall, Boldmere (30th March), a church hall with another tiny stage.

The result is scenery and props which are minimal, a suggestion rather than a scene, with the production relying on good costumes, with the acting having to carry the production, which it did in some style.

After all it is a play which relies on the words, the characters and the wit, which is what you get, and even after 124 years it is still a delightful, light-hearted comedy, and Mint have made it a a most enjoyable evening.To 30-03-19.

Roger Clarke


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