When anyone thinks of Oscar Wilde's classic comedy of manners, they
automatically think of the immortal line - "A Handbag" delivered by Lady
Bracknell during a pivotal scene. Thankfully, this production is so much more
than a retread of familiar lines for Wilde devotees.
This Royal Exchange production follows the original text closely without
trying to modernise it or add any flashy gimmicks to seduce a young
audience. John Worthing (Ian Shaw) adopts a new name and therefore a new
persona in order to woo Gwendolyn Fairfax (Anna Hewson), a lady of some
importance. She is the daughter of 'the' Lady Bracknell (Gabrielle Drake).
Meanwhile, Algernon Moncrieff (Jamie De Courcey) poses as John's fictional brother,
Earnest, which wins over the quirky but modern Cecily Cardew (Laura Rees).
Add to this scenario shy Miss Prism (Joanna David) and her repressed
feelings for Reverend Chausuble (John Watts) and you are left with a
delightful play which raises many a smile during its three fast paced acts.
Wilde's wonderful writing has the audience on the edge of their seats
waiting for each gem of a line to be uttered. Thankfully the excellent cast
do not merely deliver lazily as they could so easily have done. Each actor
brings something original to the stage by refusing to overact during the
Drake does seem too young to really excel as the infamous Lady Bracknell.
But she does relish the part playing it prim and proper with the right
amount of snobbery. Shaw brings a sense of bewilderment to the role which
suits his displaced character. Rees' Cecily is worldly but naive when it
comes to the opposite sex. Hewson is marvellous, very much like a mini
Lady Bracknell in waiting while David excels as Miss Prism - the shy but
secretive governess who holds the key to many of the play's revelations.
Braham Murray directs at a breakneck pace which equals non-stop laughter
for the audience and compliments Wilde's style of writing. Jason Taylor's clever lighting adds depth to Johanna Bryant's understated set design.
This is an excellent production which delighted the audience on the night I
attended and not just because they were wild about the original play. So
many classic texts are staged pedestrian retreads or full of 'new' hidden
meanings. This version of Earnest is simply sublime because it respects the
audience too much to tweak the material or simply push all the right