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The Importance of Being Earnest – Mercury Theatre, Colchester

Writer: Oscar Wilde

Director: Michael Lunney

Composer: Mat Larkin

Reviewer: Michael Gray


This Middle Ground tour of Wilde‘s greatest hit has been around for a year or two, last time featuring actor Tony Britton.

No such legends this time out, but a cast including many names from stage and the small screen, who together gave us a workmanlike, if ultimately uninspired, canter through the lapidary text.

It certainly looks goodthe scenery is imposing: a lovely cloth of City of London churches for Act One, a classical garden for Act Two, a country house library, with the same horticultural backdrop, for Act Three. And the frocks were superbGwendolen’s reticule, Aunt Augusta’s formidable hats typical of the care lavished on these Edwardian outfits. And there’s a lovely original score from Mat Larkin, featuring the violin of Lynette Webster.

As Miss Fairfax so rightly points out, style not sincerity is the vital thing. And it’s not so much the farcical misunderstandings that lie at the heart of this piece, but the polished wit, bons mots and aphorisms. Not everyone in this cast is equally skilled at pointing a witty riposte, or indeed at timing the lines to extract every laugh from the willing audience.

It is perhaps a generation thing. Diane Fletcher’s elegant Lady Bracknell is a true delight. Her inability to bring herself to pronounce the word “handbag” is a masterstroke, and even a line like “the unfashionable side” is imbued with deep shades of significance. David Gooderson is a game old parson, charmingly pursuing the prim Miss Prism of Sarah Thomas, and we are treated to a double domestic helping of Gerry Hinks, who gives us a suavely lugubrious Lane and a doddery, distracted Merriman.

In the opening scene, Algie (Jim Alexander) and Jack (Tom Butcher), resplendent in spats and moustaches, run through the dialogue at a spanking pace, with some lack of clarity. The objects of their affections, amusing in the garden duologue, sometimes come across more as the “purple of commerce” than the “ranks of the aristocracy”a question of poise, deportment and subtlety.

On opening night at the Mercury, we hear mostly ripples of laughter, rather than gales. But the audience seems to enjoy this fitfully diverting revival of this most bankable of classic comedies.

Until 27 October, then touring until 17 November


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