Valentine’s Day saw the 120th anniversary of the first production of Oscar Wilde’s irreverent satire, which still possesses the capacity to entertain and enliven audiences, proving that something aged so far beyond our modern years can be as warmly received today as it was in the glittering past of London’s theatres.
A fête of bad manners and biting wit, St Augustine Church’s adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest paid excellent homage to the frivolous nature of Victorian high society, but never quite succeeded in capturing the ritzy glow of the original text.
Set within ‘an age of ideals’, Wilde’s play follows the deceptions of Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing – who both claim to their friends and family to be of the name ‘Ernest’, as they face opposition from the stiff yet ridiculous upper lip of Lady Bracknell in their quest to woo and wed two equals of social worth.
The Importance of Being Earnest is one of theatre’s most beloved plays.
Credit must be given to the performance of Algernon, the archetypal dandy crook, who was brought to life with a refinement which might have been enjoyed on a world stage. The very same has to be said for Lady Bracknell, portrayed to the most minute degree of detail, and encompassing both the sheer terror and haughty hilarity of Wilde’s original matriarch.
Both performances were active in creating an animated period setting, and realising the brilliance of the play’s scathing dialogue. In contrast to this however, some of the night’s acting seemed to lack in confidence, omitting the vivacity needed in order to deliver the dialogue to the utmost effect. As a consequence of this, a few of Earnest’s most lively scenes did not quite achieve their potential.
A facet of the production which displayed innovation and accomplished creativity was its use of mixed media. A screen hung in the background of the stage, displaying pieces of film taken around Scotland which worked to expand the sparsely furnished and limited space of the church’s interior, and provide an aesthetic backdrop without the need for a copious set. Cleverly utilised throughout the night, such an idea showed imagination and savvy spatial awareness. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a few technical and staging difficulties during the show, which – although seeming amateurish – is usually an expected outcome of a first night of performance.
Alongside a highly enthusiastic audience, whose visible and audible enjoyment of the play created a warm atmosphere of reception, the evening seemed to progress in a subtle yet pleasing manner. For lovers of Earnest, St Augustine’s production may not have offered anything notably new, and may not have thoroughly delighted every theatre-goer, but even so, it supplied plenty of laughs and light amusement.