REVIEW: The Importance of Being Earnest – Theatre Royal, Glasgow

It is hard to fathom why there is any need to tamper with things that, in their original form, are pretty much perfect in every way. Oscar Wilde’s witty masterpiece is so well-loved that, as well as endless stage revivals it has had three big-screen adaptations in 1952, 1992 and 2002. The sole reason for Lucy Bailey’s re-imagining seems to be the accommodation of a rather mature cast in these somewhat youthful roles.

Framed as a group of am-drams, The Bunbury Company of Players, rehearsing for their umpteenth revival of The Importance of Being Earnest, the action takes place in the impressive home of their maturest member Lavinia, who, of course, will play Lady Bracknell. Novelist Simon Brett is charged with providing the additional material, not exactly an enviable task, and what results, for much of the first act is a poor man’s Noises Off. Thoroughly half-hearted, it fails to provide any interesting back story for the characters or enough comedy to set up the main event.

Thankfully the action settles in the second act, and the framing fades into the play proper. The actors are a thoroughly charming bunch and no strangers to the work (Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis both starring in Peter Hall’s 1982, National Theatre production), and there’s little doubt about the actors’ talent, but casting such a vastly experienced group of actors as a troupe of amateurs just doesn’t convince. What does impress though is Sian Phillips’ turn as a spectacularly well-judged Lady Bracknell.

There may be some disappointed audience members who bought tickets believing they were about to see a ‘straight’ production of Wilde’s Classic and one can’t help thinking this would have been glorious had it been staged thus, but there’s a brace of fine performances and a visually pleasing set to keep the audience engaged. Ultimately, though, it’s a case of what might have been.

Image: Tristram Kenton

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