The Importance of Being Earnest (Frinton)
Since Edith Evans' iconic performances, immortalised on film in the 1950s, the role of Lady Bracknell has become the lynch-pin of each new production of Wilde's comedy.
Edward Max's production of The Importance of Being Earnest for the 75th anniversary season at Frinton's Summer Theatre is based on the one he devised for Contexture in Bishop's Stortford last autumn.
It has Martin Robinson's clever flexible sets – we watch the scene changes through the draw-curtain gauze – and the performances might overall be described as brisk, though properly in period.
Casting Vicki Michelle as Lady Bracknell, however, proves to be a mistake. On the opening night she was obviously suffering from throat trouble and, after a couple of prompts in her first scene, was script-in-hand for the rest of the play. As everyone else on stage was firing off the text at a crisp rate, this led to tension sags.
Daisy Keeping's Cecily is a delightful minx, posing with her watering-can as though for a horde of admirers (you can imagine the havoc Miss Cardew wreaks in bucolic masculine breasts whenever she goes to evening parties or attends church). David Mildon's slightly goofy on the surface but razor-sharp underneath portrait of Algernon complements her admirably.
Jack-in-the-country, Earnest-in-town Jack Worthing is William Findley; you sense the social unease due to his mysterious origins which colours his courtship of Rhiannon Sommers' slightly shrewish Gwendolen, affects his man-about-town image and comes to the fore when catechised by Lady Bracknell.
Country butler Merriman is usually played as an elderly retainer. Ben Kernow makes him a red-haired younger man and reserves the doddering for Lane, Algernon's manservant. Giles Watling's bumble-bee Canon Casuble, very much the country parson, is more effective than Beth Tuckey's curiously underpowered Miss Prism.
The Importance of being Earnest continues at the Frinton Summer Theatre until 9 August.