REVIEW: The Importance Of Being Earnest, Mercury Theatre ✭✭✭

Paul T Davies reviews The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde at the Mercury Theatre Colchester.

Importance of Being Earnest
Photo: Pamela Raith

The Importance of Being Earnest.
Mercury Theatre, Colchester.
7 March 2024
3 Stars
Mercury Theatre Website

Very few plays deserve the moniker ‘timeless’, but it’s certainly true of Oscar Wilde’s witty comedy of manners. So many lines sparkle with class observations that you can often miss the next while the audience laugh. Ryan McBryde’s gorgeous production at the Mercury wisely doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but updates it to the 1950s. Overall, with the characters and situation remaining intact, the update doesn’t really add anything except the wonderful set and costume design from Katie Lias. And the cast play it loud, with every witty line emphasised strongly, whereas I think the trick of Wilde is often throwing away the line, casually, because it’s part of everyday conversation.

Mercury Theatre
Photo: Pamela Raith

The cast relish the opportunity to play the comedy. Richard David-Caine as Jack and Mateo Oxley as Algernon combine their superb physical skills to create a joyous double act, their scenes and squabbles are a show highlight.

The Importance Of Being Earnest
Photo: Pamela Raith

The scene between Cecily, (Claire Lee Shenfield), and Gwendoline, (Harrie Hayes), in which they politely quarrel over, (they think), the same man, is a wonder of barely contained catfighting, though they could still push the politeness further, and show strength through remaining rock steady still. Martin Miller hilariously barely contains the inner emotions of Rev Canon Chausible, Elizabeth Bower scene-stealing as Miss Prism- in a fantastic wig- and Susannah Van Den Berg has a ball in the servant roles of Lane and Merriman. Of course, Lady Bracknell is the character that casts a long shadow, thanks to Edith Evans’ film portrayal, and Gillian Bevan pounds out the vowels, almost making us want to join in on “a handbag”, but I felt wasn’t as dominant as the part could be.

Importance of being Earnest
Photo: Pamela Raith

In fact, the production would fly even more if the actors stopped sign posting so many funny lines and punchlines and relaxed into Wilde’s dialogue. But it’s an enjoyable evening, and the way Wilde plots everything towards the final line, which the audience joined in with, is an absolute joy.

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