The Importance Of Being Earnest has been described as being “A trivial comedy for serious people”; the play kicks us off in the living room of Mr Algernon Moncrieff, a socialite and all round shirker of obligations. Hilarity ensues in the play when both protagonists are discovered to be using the same fictitious personae in order to impress the woman they wish to marry.
Tonight’s production took us in a slightly different direction than I’ve seen before, however, as the play was brought into the twenty first century, with each of the well known and beloved characters being given a slight update, whilst retaining the charm of the production.
I personally really enjoy updating and reimagining well known scripts; however, it wasn’t taken quite far enough on this occasion and a promising idea fell a touch flat as the pull into the modern day didn’t sync up well in all places.
I enjoyed the business empire created by Lady Bracknell; however, having Gwendolen as her next in line to take over the company and not her daughter may have saved from the “icky cousin thing” but created the equally troubling situation where a CEO was controlling the marital exploits of her employee. Changing Jack Worthing’s relation to Lady Bracknell would have been easier, avoided the cousin issue and also have made Lady Bracknell’s objections to Gwendolen’s marriage that of an over controlling mother and not a slightly deranged boss. Just something that I noted throughout.
Having said that, Imogen King as Lady Bracknell did a good job in modernising the role and making it her own. She had presence, power and assuredness that usually only comes through people much older than herself. She was very believable and, having seen the role played several times by some rather famous names, I saw something brand new in Imogen’s performance of the character.
My star of the show must go to Harry Seager as Jack Worthing. He was funny, energetic, bold and had several moments where he stole the show. Most notably was Harry’s hilarious reaction towards the end of the play when he is outed as not actually being ‘Earnest’. The modern twist really worked here as we were treated to what I can only imagine would be a real life moment of ‘Oh sh*t’ at being found out.
The roles of Dr Chaucible and Miss Prism were wonderfully portrayed by Jake Collyer and Natalia May. They had perfect comic timing between the pair of them and I could see their connection to one another instantly. The juxtaposition of having a taller lady to a smaller man was also oddly enjoyable.
Emily Dennis did a fine job as the bratty, naive and youthful Cecily Cardew. I enjoyed her scenes with Millie Pike as Gwendolen and noticed part way through that both women wore trousers, shoes, and eyeshadow in an allocated colour: green for the country based and youthful Cecily and pink for the classically feminine but strong willed Gwendolen. I enjoyed this style choice and could tell that Directors Katherine Quinn and Philip Hoare had really thought about the characters and as such had styled them perfectly.
The costume choices for all three women were wonderful; however, not overhauling the script as well as the costumes was a little jarring in places. Certain lines were swapped for modern day equivalents, whereas most were kept the same, creating a small amount of inaccuracy on certain lines, such as: “Pretty child! your dress is sadly simple, and your hair seems almost as Nature might have left it”. The pretty child in question was in fact wearing trousers and a t-shirt and a simple rejigging of the script in more places would have synced the play to the modern day and removed the jarring moments where costume and script clashed.
Rather amusingly, I also noted that the infamous handbag where Mr Jack Worthing gets left in the Cloakroom at Victoria Station (The Brighton Line) was also modernised and the small handbag selected would have struggled to fit a baby of any age or indeed size into it, without sadly squashing the poor boy.
Overall the production was quite enjoyable, the acting rather good and the production design also quite strong with quite a simple set. With more time on the script itself, I think this production would have only gotten stronger and linking the strong choices back to the page would have cemented the twenty first century as the home of this production.
It was a fabulous idea to modernise and update this well loved play, and has left me wondering what other fabulous ideas we will see from SUSU in the future.