The Importance of Being Earnest (Tour-Bath)

There’s a distinct whiff of why in this uninspired production of The Importance of Being Earnest.

The Importance of Being Earnest company.
The Importance of Being Earnest company.
© Tristram Kenton

You come out of The Importance Of Being Earnest, now playing on tour in Bath after a couple of months run in the West End, with the distinct feeling of why? It’s a production that doesn’t illuminate or catch the satire under Wilde's surface sheen. Its what Peter Brook declared deadly theatre; a museum piece that basks in past nostalgia over anything new or fresh.

It’s admittedly well performed but the whole concept behind the production, created to shoehorn in actors a little long in the tooth for the roles is frustratingly undercooked. We are witnessing the Bunbury Company Of Players completing a final rehearsal of Wilde’s glittering comedy in the beautiful designed (by William Dudley) house of the Spellmans, George and Linda. This additional material has been written by Simon Brett and is nowhere near as witty as Wilde and unnecessarily vulgar to boot. This concept soon drifts away as if director Lucy Bailey lost faith with it and decided on a faithful retelling of the original instead.

The actors playing roles closer to their own age brackets fare best. Sian Phillips as Lavinia Spellman/Mrs Bracknell is less of a gorgon then most Bracknell’s, a lady who is used to being respected for her charm and grace more then fear, much like the wonderful Phillips herself. Patrick Godfrey as Lavinia’s husband lured onto the stage for the first time to give his take on two footmen brings his number of years of experience to roles that normally are lost. Rosalind Ayres as Mrs Prism and Niall Bugby as Rev Canon Chausable expertly steal the show; Ayres as the prim proper schoolteacher who bursts into girlish delight at the thought of a stroll to the church with Bugby’s manic clergymen.

Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis pick up the roles they played at the National Theatre Theatre thirty years previously and have a lot of fun fine actors though they are though, its not clear what they bring to the roles outside of Havers still rather dashing bouffant (flicked at opportune moments to prove he still has it) or Jarvis’ slightly fruity delivery of Wilde’s lines.

On leaving the theatre this Importance had already failed one of Wilde’s dictums. Conversation had already turned onto more interesting topics. Dinner, weekend plans, the weather. This Earnest is not one to stick in the memory.

The Importance Of Being Earnest plays in Bath until the 27th September and then tours until the 25th October.