Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Reviewed by Matthew Forrest
It has to be said I was approaching The Importance of Being Earnest with some degree of in trepidation: my only other encounter with the play occurred some 25 years previous with a rather tepid class reading by 9J at St Gregory’s Roman Catholic High School: It would be fair to say that it was a lack-lustre affair, and my Algernon Moncrieff was poor by anyone standards. To be told by our English teacher that this was a ‘comedy’ was an insult – we didn’t laugh once.
I’m happy to say Director Alastair Whatley’s take on the Oscar Wilde’s classic lays that ghost firmly to rest: this adaptation is bold, bright and full of life which will leave you grinning from ear-to-ear.
The plot focuses on two-men-about town, Algernon Moncrieff (Thomas Howes) and Jack Worthing (Peter Sandys-Clarke) both have created a fictional double life for themselves which allows them to get out of social occasions on a whim, and visit the country/city whenever they fancy. However both men’s double-lives land them in hot-water as affections of two ladies come into play, Miss Gwendolen Fairfax (Kerry Ellis) and Cecily Cardew (Louise Coulthard), have both fallen for Earnest Worthing, the fictional alter ego/brother created by Jack.
Howes is on great form playing the devilishly mischievous Moncrieff, lapping it up as he gets to eat lot of muffins and use the stage as his own sofa: the dream job! He is the perfect foil for Sandys-Clarke who’s up-tight Jack, attempts to keep his dignity whilst his world crashes in around him.
Coulthard is excellent in the role of exceedingly clever if slightly unhinged Cecily, Coulthard plays the part with comedic perfection. West End and Broadway favourite Kerry Ellis is equally as good in the somewhat less ‘showy’ role of Gwendolen, (her first straight play in this her 20th year in the business). There is more than a hint of Blackadder’s Queenie in both performances which is high praise indeed. A scene between the two where a slice of cake, is used as a weapon is an absolute treat and is surely the most passive-aggressive afternoon tea I’ve ever seen.
Gwen Taylor puts a unique spin on the arrogant, seemingly omnipotent but ignorant Lady Bracknell giving the character a hint of warmth and humanity, which makes some of her more unique lines of dialogue all the more absurd.
The Costumes and set design by Gabriella Slade are full bright colours which really stand out, that coupled with the gusto of the performances give the production a burst of energy.
Wilde’s writing certainly has stood the test of time, with a play about social etiquettes and living a double life who knows what he would make of today’s social media obsessed world.
With a great deal of relevance today this is a fun entertaining night out, that will leave you with a smile on your face and the sudden urge to go get a muffin! Suitably spiffing!
The Importance of Being Earnest is on at the Manchester Opera House till the 17th March tickets available here.