THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
by Oscar Wilde
directed by Clive Stack
Blackburn Drama Club
Oscar Wilde called his play, “A trivial comedy for serious people”. It has stood the test of time with many different ways of presentation but such is the strength of the writing that the play can never fail to please and amuse.
The opening night at the Thwaite's Empire Theatre presented another chance for serious people to be amused, and amused we were.
A slightly different opening to the play was in the form of a mime with Lane, the butler, played by Simon Hall, setting the table for an impending visit from Aunt Augusta, whilst Algernon Moncrief did his very best to demolish the cucumber sandwiches. The background music playing whilst all the business was being carried out, was “The Glow Worm”, a popular tune from the early 1900s. Whilst this set the scene, it did take a while for the play to get underway. Once things were set in train, however, the play moved along at a cracking pace. I wasn’t too sure about the many asides to the audience but no matter, Wilde’s wit was always at the fore. Algernon Moncrieff was played by Stephen Claxon creating a character reminiscent of the acting style of the time. Hardly ever still, every word was clearly heard and this was a good solid performance of the gentleman who visited Bunbury in the country.
His partner in subterfuge, Jack Worthing, was played in fine style by Dominic Dwyer. This was a role that seemed tailor made for Dominic. He was by turns urbane, diffident, subservient and strong within the various situations which were presented during the course of the play. Ideal casting meant that Algernon and Jack were equally matched with each other.
Events started to liven up upon the entrance of Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen. Siobhán Edge was the very essence of Lady Bracknell. Superb diction, a withering look, and a deportment that simply oozed authority, Siobhán, by her very presence dominated the scenes in which she appeared. I should have liked a little more Edith Evans in the lines “Arise, Sir, from that semi-recumbent posture” and, “a handbag” as it is more befitting the authoritative character. As it was, the most well-known lines were somewhat lost, I feel. This did not detract from an otherwise superb performance.
Her niece, Gwendolen Fairfax was played by Claire St. Pierre. There was no doubting whose influence tempered her character. A beautifully controlled performance by Claire created a very believable character. Secure in her role, and with superb diction, we soon believed she could only ever be in love with someone called Earnest.
The action of the play moves from London to the garden of the Manor House in Shropshire where Miss Prism is attempting to tutor Cecily Cardew in the finer points of German grammar. A superb role was created by Jan Burrow as Miss Prism. Always in character, she ranged from firm governess to skittish damsel attempting to catch the eye of Canon Chasuble. Her pupil, Cecily, was played by Gemma Nightingale. A lady of firm intent, Gemma’s portrayal of Jack Worthing’s ward was superb. Always in character, she ranged from petulant teenager to a firm, strong-willed young lady. The interplay between Cecily and Gwendolen was delightful. The two sparked off each other and trading insult with insult was masterly.
Canon Chasuble was played by Andrew Smith and was the very essence of the Canon who had captured Miss Prism’s heart. The obvious awkwardness between them was superbly understated – and their final scene together was masterly.
Throughout the play, Lane (Simon Hall), Merriman, (Barbara Chadwick), a butler, (Ben Ashworth) and a Maid (Chloe Soria St Pierre) flitted in and out of the proceedings where required, and each stayed in character and were very credible portrayals.
The sets were very inventive, especially Acts II and III where the change from the garden at the Manor House to the morning room was excellent. The furnishing and properties were excellently indicative of the upper-class lives of the two houses. From a working horn gramophone in Algernon’s flat in Half-Moon Street, to the garden scene at the Manor House where the scenes set were extraordinarily colourful - the roses in bloom looked very real indeed, everything reeked “period”. Very many congratulations to the props team of Alison Smith and Carolanne Connolly, on a job well done.
The costumes, by Jacqui Mooney and Heidi Needham, were also in period, and fitted each character extremely well. Very many congratulations.
Stage management by Graham Howarth and Jonathan Mallinson allowed the action to flow without any undue delay between scenes and settings.
Clive Stack, the show’s director, in a very short rehearsal time, gave the Blackburn audiences an entertaining night at the theatre.
Many thanks for your very warm hospitality. I look forward to seeing your forthcoming production of “One Man, Two Guv’nors”.