THEATRE – The Importance of Being Earnest – Playhouse – 4K

Fresh from the peach fight - Nancye Hayes as Lady Bracknell - image by Shane Reid

Fresh from the peach fight – Nancye Hayes as Lady Bracknell – image by Shane Reid

By Peter Maddern

Perhaps Oscar Wilde’s most famous play burst onto the Playhouse stage last night in a sumptuous display of period self-indulgence and deception. With few attempts to be anything other than true to the original material, director Geordie Brookman has assembled a star cast who revel in the opportunity for farce.

None more so than Nancye Hayes as the sergeant of arms for the fun police, Lady Bracknell. After 10 minutes or so of a mish-mash of whites, blacks and teal, Bracknell arrives on stage as if fresh from of a massive peach fight. It reminds one immediately of our Dame Edna sans the gladis and maybe her persona was based on this, at times, terrifying Victorian matron.  From there the various deceptions of wayward city brothers and the sick Bunberry grow and grow while the ladies of Algie and Jack’s affections get caught up in it all in equal measure.

While Nathan O’Keefe’s dandy Algernon Moncrieff dominates the first act, increasingly it is Yalin Ozucelik’s Jack who takes control with his own somewhat shameless double life of trusted guardian and playboy, a lost man looking for an identity that it seems Lady Bracknell is hell bent on denying  him in the name of her society’s  mores.

The girls, Anna Steen as Gwendolen and Lucy Fry as Cecily, are just a delight, the former with a somewhat ridiculous pout and the other with such sweet innocence it’s worrying.

Yalin Ozucelik, Nathan O'Keefe, Anna Steen  (photo by Shane Reid)

Yalin Ozucelik, Nathan O’Keefe, Anna Steen (photo by Shane Reid)

But as good as the cast is the highlight remains the material. Wilde lets rip whenever he can at the upper classes of the Victorian age he both cherishes and despises in equal measure. Sometimes it seems the end can only arrive once he has exhausted all the witty material he can muster and when it does arrives it comes with the sort of contrivance that would make even Gilbert and Sullivan winch.

The staging, contained within a magnificent rolling teak wooden curtain rod, bursts out not only with colour and texture but in a shape that subtly gets us anchored in the times.

The Importance of Being Earnest is simply great fun with all the cast in fine form in a production that will have you laughing all the way home – all very witty Wilde.  What a pity he isn’t around today.

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