There is something quintessentially English about Oscar Wilde – which is ironic given his Irish heritage. And there is something equally quintessential about there being at least one garden production of The Importance of Being Earnest staged in Oxford every year.
This summer we are treated to a revival of Chris Pickles' production for Oxford Shakespeare Company in the gardens of Wadham College. Unfortunately for those of us present on the press night, we were also treated to some rather inclement (and yet quintessentially English) weather.
Luckily it did not ruin the evening. The strength of the writing and the solidly entertaining production meant that a good time was had by all.
Pickles has chosen not to radically challenge our expectations of the play with his elegant interpretation. Yes, Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism are played by male actors (Howard Gossington and Andrew Piper)– but this is done without ever descending into the realm of the pantomime dame, something for which I am very grateful.
On the whole, the performances are true to the spirit of the text and things fizz along at a nice pace. Occasionally there are moments of where nuance gives way to a broader playing style – but this does not mar the success of the presentation overall.
There are some particularly fine costumes which made some of the set and prop elements perhaps look a little lacklustre.
However this is a polished version of a great play and one that is certain to entertain audiences for the rest of the month.