Age, in Lucy Bailey’s sparkling production of The Importance Of Being Earnest, is something of a preoccupation.
It is responsible for a huge boost in laughs for what is already one of the funniest plays ever written.
All credit to Oscar Wilde, but a pat on the back for writer Simon Brett for giving us a seriously good comedy for modern people.
The Importance scored a huge success in a recent West End run and is now on a regional tour of very select venues. It opened last night at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre in front of a delighted audience.
Nigel Havers heads a star-studded ensemble cast for this inspired re-boot.
There is nothing but praise for a show which I found refreshingly original, superbly acted, and arguably more funny than the regular version.
We are watching the final rehearsal of the Bunbury Company Of Players, an am-dram group that performs Wilde’s celebrated play every five years.
Havers and Martin Jarvis both starred in a National Theatre production of Earnest in the early 1980s.
They were young men playing man-about-town and womaniser Algie Moncrieff and outwardly respectable JP Jack Worthing who are both characters in their 20s.
More than 30 years later Havers, the star of Chariots Of Fire, The Charmer and Coronation Street decided it was time to reprise their roles before they were past it.
And it works remarkably well – thanks to having the clout to attract a top-drawer cast.
Havers plays womaniser Dicky Oldfield, who is working his way through the women in the Players, and is back playing Algie.
The show’s director, a very thesp Tony Scottney makes a grand entrance and assumes the role of Worthing.
No-one but Siân Phillips could play the indomitable Lady Bracknell, who behaves just as imperiously as grande dame and am-dram veteran Lavinia.
Cherie Lunghi, Rosalind Ayres, Niall Buggy, Christine Kavanagh and Patrick Godfrey make up the rest of the main cast with support from Carole Dance, Portia Booroff and Hugh Osborne.
The opening scene sees the group assembling in Lavinia’s country mansion to rehearse. There’s all sorts of prop malfunctions, good old fashioned vaudeville gags, and a running joke concerning cucumber sandwiches.
“Some people may think we are getting too old for this stuff,” protests Scottney (a youthful-looking 73-year-old Jarvis).
“No!” they all retort. “The audience never notices!” declares Lavinia.
Buggy’s Fergus arrives after a liquid lunch ready to play the vicar, the Rev Chasuble. “I’m one of those BWP actors,” he slurs – “Better When P***ed!”
Slowly the rehearsals melt away and the performance morphs into the real thing.
Havers’ rather smug Oldfield proves remarkably adept at playing the carouser Moncrieff while Jarvis is on splendidly good form as the foundling Worthing.
Lunghi and Kavanagh have fun flexing their claws as love rivals while Patrick Godfrey, as Lavinia’s husband George, finds dignity in servitude.
William Dudley’s sumptuous set gives the lavish production a classy finish.
The production worked for me, and for the audience, most of whom were laughing in anticipation before Wilde’s immortal lines were said.
Brett’s extra material was a comedy bonus.
The Importance Of Being Earnest runs at Aylesbury Waterside Theatre until Saturday, October 11.