The curtain falls on The Library Theatre with a production of The Importance of Being Earnest that reflects both the underlying themes of the play and the history of the theatre in which it is performed. The main plot, in Oscar Wilde’s wonderfully complex and witty play, concerns the efforts of John Worthing (Simon Harrison) to marry Gwendolen Fairfax (Natalie Grady) by overcoming obstacles such as his unusual family history, the displeasure of Gwendolen’s aunt and the fact that his bride to be will marry only someone with the name ‘ Earnest.'
The play, in which characters lead double lives – one for pleasure the other for duty, can be viewed as reflecting homosexual life in the Victorian era when it was written. The subtle direction of Chris Honer acknowledges this interpretation without distracting from the simple flirtatious pleasure of the play. The sexual undertone in the opening scene in which Algernon (Alex Felton) lounges around having his clothing adjusted by his servant Lane (Leigh Symonds) does not delay the progress of the plot.
The excellent cast illustrates the benefit of the policies of The Library Theatre and still manage to delight. Relative newcomers share the stage with veterans and a man (Russell Dixon) plays Lady Bracknell. This is not gimmick casting though, as Dixon ignores comic moments that have become stale through repetition and instead draws humour from the use of his deep tones at surprising moments. His physical presence brings to mind The Godfather mercilessly passing judgement. The slightly military edge to the design of the final costume makes the character look like she has stepped out of Alice in Wonderland.
Although the costumes are appropriately lavish - the set, designed by Judith Croft, implies luxury whilst being economical. The same golden trellis is used as background for all three sets but with different inserts to indicate a change of scene. The lighting by Nick Richings gives a feel of changing seasons with the opening act in rich tones of autumn, the second warm summer whilst a blue tone suggests the coming of winter in the final act.
This is a marvellous production in which all the elements work together to create a satisfying whole. It even benefits from the current political situation with the line about Liberals counting as Tories gaining an unexpected relevance.
The Library Theatre has been producing quality shows for almost sixty years. The current production is amongst its best and brings a sense of reassurance that, although the company is about to go through a period of change and moving to a different location, audiences can be confident that the high quality of the shows will be maintained.