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Review: The Importance of Being Earnest at the Lichfield Garrick

Oscar Wilde’s immortal masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest premiered in 1895, and it’s been a hit ever since.

Gwen Taylor as Lady Bracknell

Gwen Taylor as Lady Bracknell

In the lightest of comedies, Wilde saw through England’s cruelly rigid class system with a ruthless Irish eye and the result is perhaps the greatest comedy in the language, ironically written by an outsider. Society’s terrible retribution for this was prison, social disgrace and the loss of his family, but his reward was literary immortality.

Despite the genius of the script it is not as easy as it looks to get right – I have seen a production in which Merriman the footman upstaged the entire cast with a silly walk. But here the balance of superb players is absolutely right without the tiniest glitch in this Rolls Royce of a show where every word and gesture is fresh as paint, and as a result this exquisite revival does every aspect of the play full justice.

It’s unusually brilliantly cast too with some top flight players. The role of Lady Bracknell always needs a star, and here it’s the marvellous Gwen Taylor who you’ll know from Heartbeat and everything else. Her alter-ego, the decayed governess Miss Prism is the wonderful Susan Penhaligon, another star, even the role of housemaid goes to Judith Rae who could upstage for England.

It’s got a classy footman/butler too, Simon Shackleton with exactly appropriate unction.

But it’s the competing bachelors, two spectacularly upper-class Jack the Lads or as Wilde would put it, confirmed Bunburyists on whom the main action falls and here Thomas Howes is every inch the suave and blatantly opportunist Algernon Moncrieff, while Peter Sandys-Clarke is his slightly more cautious but equally hypocritical Jack Worthing who have both found a way round England’s rigid system of morality to meet, well, girls.

The equally realistic young women of their dreams are played by the elegantly poised Hannah Louise Howell (Gwendolen, Lady Bracknell’s equally sharp operator of a daughter) and the marvellous Louise Coulthard as Cecily Cardew, a schoolgirl with a very vivid secret emotional life. Even the relatively minor role of Canon Chasuble commands a rare performer in Geoff Aymer.

This marvellous production of Wilde’s greatest work where youth must always triumph, its humour the very comedy of life itself is worth more than just a glance. Don’t miss it, if you can get a ticket – the first night was packed out. Five star.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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