The Importance of Being Earnest
|Date||31st March 2023|
|Venue||Chatsworth House Theatre|
|Type of Production||Play|
|Director||Chris Heery. Assistant Director Chris Rooke|
Author: Joyce Handbury
The Importance of Being Earnest is a farcical comedy written by Oscar Wilde and it was first performed in 1895. It is based around two young men, one of whom is an upright gentleman called John ‘Jack’ Worthing who lives in the country and the other is Algernon ‘Algy’ Moncrieff who lives in London. In the country Jack is the guardian of Miss Cecily Cardew who is the granddaughter of the elderly millionaire who adopted Jack after finding him in a handbag he was handed in error at the cloakroom Victoria Station. When Jack gets bored with the country, he cites an imaginary younger brother named Ernest who lives in London. This enables him to regularly go to town and to have fun with his very good friend Algy where he becomes besotted with Algy’s cousin Gwendolen, daughter of Lady Bracknell. Algy also has a fictional invalid friend called Bunbury giving him a ready excuse, whenever he wishes, to get out of any social commitment. He also later masquerades as Ernest when he decides to go the country as Jacks’s brother, where he immediately falls in love with Cecily. The pair struggle to keep up with their own stories and become entangled in a tale of deception, disguise and misadventure particularly as the objects of their affection Gwendolen (Algernon’s cousin) and Cecily (Jack’s Ward) both appear to be in love with their fictional creation - Ernest.
Luke Gannon stridently portrayed Jack perfectly as befits the persona of a respectable and honourable major landowner with so many people dependent on him but he is so hypocritically immoral when he lies to his loved ones about his brother Ernest as was shown when he so convincingly, after returning home in full mourning attire, tried to absolve his ‘double life’ by revealing that his brother Ernest is now deceased - a great performance from Luke. There was a good rapport with Danny Washington who delivered the role of Algernon with great assurance, confidence and natural ease without, I feel, overplaying the foppishness that can be associated with it. Alicia Bloundele excelled as Gwendolen. She portrayed the sophistication, the elegance, the pretentiousness and strong-mindedness of the character splendidly and Mia Luft was absolutely delightful as Jack’s young ward, Cecily, she captured the nuances of the character with boundless youthful energy. Both are obsessed with the name Ernest only wanting to marry a man with that name and at times they are very much at odds with one another but there was a wonderful scene when they both realised that they had been duped. Lindsay Jackson was outstanding as Lady Bracknell. She gave the role warmth, not usually associated with the part, but still managed to be a formidable and totally imposing character in both mannerisms, speech and elegance. I suppose many in the audience, as well as myself, were waiting for that almost legendary line ‘A Handbag’ but Lindsay delivered a much more modified and dignified version. Sally Shaw was top-notch as Miss Prism being the epitome of a Governess to Cecily but becoming so flirtatious when in the presence of Canon Chasuble who was most eloquently played by Melvyn Osborne. Stuart McLean was impeccable as Lane, the Butler, and Jo Petch was superb as the maid, Merriman and what an innovative and inspirational idea it was to have (in front of the main curtains whilst the next scene was being set) Jo, as Merriman, sing the song ‘Chase me Charlie’, which she did so brilliantly and animatedly along with accompanist Melvyn Osborne - a definite highlight!
Plain white back flats together with a much used French Door were the backdrop for all the various scenes and excellent props depicted the different locations, which were all extremely well lit. The costumes, very much in keeping with the period, were magnificent especially the sumptuous ones worn by Gwendolen and Cecily and Lady Bracknell’s outfits were just spectacular. This show was perfect for the wonderful ambience of the Chatsworth House Theatre which was transformed from the Ballroom into a Theatre in 1896.
Many congratulations to Director Chris Heery and Assistant Director Chris Rooke, to the wonderful talented cast, to the Backstage and Front of House Staff and special thanks to Chris Rooke for his very warm welcome and hospitality. Finally, to quote John (Jack) Worthing aka Ernest, “I’ve now realised for the first time in my life the vital importance of Being Earnest”, an ideal for which perhaps, we should all try to strive!