I had the pleasure of attending the Tabard Theatre’s production of the Oscar Wilde classic The Importance of Being Earnest last Thursday night and I have to say I was not disappointed. The production chose to stay relatively true to the original play, staging the performance in a similar style to that of the 1895 Oscar Wilde performance, with the costumes and dialogue emulating the late Victorian style, a choice which I personally enjoyed and respected – after all why tamper with a classic?!
It must be hard to make your mark on a play which everybody knows: a farcical comedy following the story of Jack, who falls head-over-heels in love with his friend Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen. However, in order to marry Gwendolen Jack must convince her mother, the formidable Lady Bracknell, that he is an appropriate suitor. This isn’t as easy as it sounds, given that Jack was abandoned as a baby and left in a handbag at Victoria Station!
The best known line in the play, which the whole audience is waiting for, comes when Jack reveals to Lady Bracknell how he started life. “A handbag!?” she exclaims in horror – now one of the most iconic lines in theatre history. However, in this production Lady Bracknell responds quietly, with her facial expressions conveying her disgust. This was a clever move, confounding expectations.
The play really took off in the second half for me. Despite the second act being almost twice as long as the first, time appeared to fly by, partly due to the introduction of Miss Prism and Canon Chasuble to the story. Jo Ashe and Dean Harris stole the show with their portrayal of these two characters, immediately grabbing the audience’s attention post-interval. Harris in particular brought in laughs even when he wasn’t speaking, from his reaction to other characters’ dialogue. His shivering and utterance of “brrrr” when the other characters were discussing cold chills was a particular highlight for me.
The cast kept the audience fully engaged throughout, not only with their line-delivery but with the breaking of the fourth wall to give bemusing looks tinged with dramatic irony. Samuel Oakes’ portrayal of Algeron added a further level of excitement to the play with his charming yet cheeky interpretation of the character, his exaggerated facial expressions and movement.
I would highly recommend seeing The Importance of Being Earnest, which is running until Sunday 23 June. The Tabard put on a fantastic true-to-script production of an Oscar Wilde classic, complete with tongue-in-cheek humour and excellent staging, making for an enjoyable and truly immersive viewing experience.