Review Round-Ups

Verdicts in on Lucy Bailey's Importance of Being Earnest

There was a mixed reaction from the critics of Lucy Bailey’s re-imagined production

Sian Phillips as Lady Bracknell
Sian Phillips as Lady Bracknell
© Tristram Kenton

Michael Coveney


…Basically, everyone’s too old for the roles they are playing, but that doesn’t stop them from repeating old tricks… instead of supplying a meta-theatricality… Simon Brett‘s framing device merely pushes the play into an awkward package… the whole set-up is one of rapidly diminishing returns, with nothing gained from the inter-reaction of the actors with their own roles, and a growing conviction that in just playing the comedy straightforwardly, these actors would have made the same points about maturity of interpretation. There’s a lot of crude interpolation, too, which is neither funny nor shocking enough to improve on Wilde or send him up rotten… In the end, the pleasures of the play are the same… and the high concept setting melts from irritating tweeness into mere insignificance.

Michael Billington


If visitors to Paris's Père Lachaise cemetery currently hear a strange noise, it is that of Oscar Wilde's spirit loudly rebelling at the thought that his sublime comedy needs to be "reimagined"… The justification for this daft device is that it enables older actors to play younger roles. My response is that age doesn't matter a damn if the style is right. The intrusive frame, buttressed with additional material by Simon Brett, also distracts from the big picture… It even seems an insult to the am-dram movement in that it licenses broad overplaying… The irony is that, when it forgets all the Bunbury nonsense and settles down to deliver Wilde's play, the production shows it has the potential to be quite adequate…

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph


Oscar Wilde’s play has a strong claim to being the most perfect comedy in the English language. In this dismaying new production, however, a group of ageing thesps have hijacked the piece for their own ends, and the results are for the most part lamentable. I have never laughed less at this play… Eventually the back story fades away and we are merely left with a third-rate production of Wilde’s play performed by arthritic actors. There are flickers of enjoyment, most notably from Siân Phillips as a vulture-like Lady Bracknell whose voice swoops and soars to tremendous effect… As so often in this show, dramatic situations are laboriously set up only to dwindle into disappointment… Those who love Wilde will feel similarly let down by this self-indulgent travesty of a masterpiece.

Paul Taylor


…The considerable drawback is that this conceit arouses expectations that it fails to fulfil. With a few not-so-funny strokes, Brett sets up the potential for mayhem… some may feel short-changed that there's so little comic disruption here of a piece that itself makes delicious play with shady double lives and that the pretence that we are viewing egotistic amateurs at work has all but evaporated in the second and third act. The compensations, though, are also considerable. It's a joy to hear Wilde's dialogue delivered with such poised musicality and mischief by seasoned performers of the calibre of Christine Kavanagh and Cherie Lunghi and Martin Jarvis and Nigel Havers… This cast does need the framing conceit.

Dominic Maxwell
The Times


…I suspect that Wilde would have got the point of Lucy Bailey‘s thoroughly likeable, high-concept revival of this well-thumbed play… even if you’ve never seen Earnest before, if offers so many Wilde zingers that it plays almost like a greatest hits set… the framing device fades away almost entirely in the second half. Yet the liveliness it brings outweighs its half-cockedness. Having made the imaginative leap to accept this strange set-up, I found myself buying into Wilde’s densely plotted nonsense with more pleasure than I’d done for years… The second half moves at a lick, sells you on its sense of fun. So though not everything clicks, if it gives us central performances as good as this then it has done its job. Youth, after all, is wasted on the young.