The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde – Review by Frank L
Smock Alley Theatre 1662 – August 3rd-22nd in The Main Space
In her director’s note, which is more insightful than many a director’s note, Kate Canning lauds the fact that even after 120 years this play remains “Brilliant”. In honour of that simple truth, her direction allows each member of the cast to permit the genius of Wilde’s language to hold centre stage. Each of the characters with their foibles and peccadilloes are magnificently well delineated by Wilde in his text. Therefore it is not surprising to read Kate Canning’s statement that in rehearsals “we have fallen in love with them all.” That phenomenon was apparent throughout this performance as this “love” permeated the delicious madness of Wilde’s plot, with all of its unlikely twists and turns, so as to enthral an audience, yet one more time.
The Smock Alley stage is covered in artificial grass including four rectangular boxes which serve a variety of purposes as tables and benches. Somewhat puzzling are four simple dresses, lit from within, which hang at varying heights towards the back on the left hand side. While their purpose remains obscure their presence is redeemed by the beautiful series of shapes and colours which they create. In the costumes worn by the cast, the showy opulence of high Victorian London society was hinted at by using shiny PVC as a substitute for luxuriant satin… a clever and vulgar substitute. And Lady Bracknell is of course the epitome of haughty vulgarity.
But apart from Wilde’s genius, in this production it is the well-drilled cast who stand out. They move around and across the stage as if the drawing rooms of London and the country houses of Hertfordshire in the late nineteenth century were part of their DNA. There was a physical disparity between Jack and Algernon and also between Cecily and Gwendolen which might have caused problems but they at all times held their various verbal jousts in a fine balance. Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism, whose characters are steeped in fervently held authoritarian views of varying degrees of hilarity, add a splendid amount of comic chaos. The Rev Chasuble, Lane the Butler and Merriman the old retainer are all played by Charlie Hughes who brought to each role a varying and suitably deferential gloss as he at all time was on a somewhat lower social rung of which he is knowingly aware. Together as a cast all seven did Wilde proud.
For those who have never seen the play, here is an excellent place to make your first acquaintance with the brilliance of it. For those who have seen one or more previous productions, this production is well worth a visit so as to revel once more in the genius of Wilde’s magnificent dramatic creation.
Written by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Kate Canning
Lighting and Set Design: Marcus Costello
Costume Design: Olga Criado Monleon
Cast: Charlie Hughes, Katie McCann, Clodagh Mooney Duggan, James Murphy, Aislinn O’Byrne, Valerie O’Leary, Kevin Shackleton