Wilde’s best-known play can sometimes seem weighed down by its accretion of memory-hogging past performances. Ellie Jones’ new production of The Importance of Being Earnest for the New Wolsey Theatre sets a sparkling pace before we hear a word of dialogue. This is complemented by the flexibility of Dawn Allsopp’s setting which transforms seamlessly between town and country, two interiors and a garden, and has some pleasantly quirky elements.
Not all the performances quite measure up to the visual standards. Two, however, are outstandingly good. The first is that of Lizzy McInnerny as Lady Bracknell – not so much the usual battle-axe but a well-honed stiletto slithering elegantly into middle life. It’s a well-spoken characterisation, aided by the bluebottle shimmer of her costumes, and thoroughly deserved the spontaneous exit round in the first act which the audience accorded on the opening night.
The other notable performance is that of Nelly Harker as Cecily, completely credible as a bright 18-year old whose romantic imagination is grounded in a sense of the realities posed by other people’s daily lives. Ishia Bennison makes Miss Prism a more forceful personality than as sometimes portrayed; you can believe that she would write a novel, but not, perhaps, that she would be quite so careless with it. Or had she just had a brush-off from a potential publisher?
At first Mark Edel-Hunt seems to have exactly the right air for Algernon, who we encounter in his flat with the residue of last night’s entertainment still very visible. But the character is never really developed from that opening. Tom Davey seems ill at ease with John Worthing; he seems to have strayed into this comedy from a far more social-realistic play by a completely different author. But it’s definitely worth seeing for McInnerny and Harker, and for that set.