There are arguably more quotable lines in The Importance of Being Earnest than any other play ever written.
Oscar Wilde’s exquisite dialogue is hilarious – from start to finish – even in the hands of “amateurs”.
Of course there’s nothing amateur about a company that features the wonderfully spoken Martin Jarvis, the extraordinary Siân Phillips, the slickly smooth Nigel Havers, and the delightful and kittenish Christine Kavanagh.
Havers, and most of the “Bunbury Company of Players,” have been on the road for nearly a year in Simon Brett’s witty and effervescent take on Wilde’s Importance and it’s still as fresh and funny as when it played to sell-pit audiences in the West End in 2014.
Theatre-goers expecting to see the original Wildean comedy have a bit of a surprise when techies and cast members wander on in civvies.
It has been more than 30 years since Jarvis and Havers played young swells John Worthing and Algernon Montcrieff in a National Theatre production of The Importance but time hasn’t moved on for the characters.
So it’s a super deceit of Brett to let the established stars reprise their roles. At one point, when quizzed by Lady Bracknell, the 74-year-old Jarvis says he is 29 (with a knowing smirk) to much laughter.
Age plays a central role in the production with most of the cast, with the exception of Phillips, as the commanding Lady B, playing bright young things.
They get away with it by casting a top-class company of actors as am-dram players who are staging The Importance. William Dudley’s splendid set is the drawing room of well-to-do Lavinia Spelman’s glorious Hertfordshire home where dress rehearsals are taking place.
In mischievous and thinly-veiled typecasting, Havers plays the smug and oily Dickie Oldfeld who is working his way through the entire company’s female members while Martin Jarvis is company director and arch thesp Tony Scottney.
“Some people may say that we are too old for this sort of stuff,” says Tony.
“Oh the audience never notice!” exclaims Lavinia.
Later, her husband, George, gets the wobbles. “I’m not a real actor, Tony.”
“That’s true of so many people who make a living out of it,” says his wife knowingly.
Dickie, dressed in velvet, his overlong hair ruffled, is charming although, it has to be said, he does have a tendency to speak his lines too quickly and quietly for the vast MK auditorium.
Mr Scottney, on the other hand, has quite super diction and a commanding presence. He enters with a flourish and directs as he performs in one of his favourite plays.
But it is company stalwart, Lavinia, whose indomitable turn as Lady Bracknell steals the show, whether she is bolstering up her unsure husband (Nigel Anthony) who is playing a pair of servants, chivvying the am-drammers, or intimidating all and sundry as the frightful social climber and snob Lady Augusta Bracknell.
An unmissable, entertaining and original production performed with finesse.
The Importance runs at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday.
- The Importance of Being Earnest
Lucy Bailey directs, with flair, a fresh and delightfully witty take on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, an unmissable, entertaining and original production at Milton Keynes Theatre this week.