The Importance of Being Earnest 2024 Review

By Joanne Rymer for NODA

The Importance of Being Earnest is celebrated for its witty dialogue, clever satire, timeless humour and engaging themes such as marriage, social expectations and the lifestyle of the English upper class.  Oscar Wildes’ sharp social commentary remain relevant making the play a classic in the realms of English literature, considered by many to be his greatest achievement.

The play focuses on two men, Jack Worthing (Mike Jones) and Algernon Moncrieff (Adam Comer) both invent fictional people to help them through the complexities of their lives.  Despite his deceptions, Jack is ultimately portrayed as a caring responsible person whilst Algernon is an opportunist, exploits his easy charm, wit and cynicism to perfect effect. Jack creates a fictional brother called Earnest, to accommodate a more fun lifestyle in London against a quiet existence in the countryside. Algernon likewise creates a sickly friend ‘Bunbury’ to avoid what he perceives are tedious social obligations.

The play begins in Algernon’s flat in Half Moon St London. He is expecting ‘Earnest’ to call, he is in possession of his cigarette case with a questionable, yet intriguing inscription. When Jack explains that he plans to propose marriage to Gwendolen (Louise Ellinson), Algenon demands to know why he has a cigarette case with the inscription, “From little Cecily with her fondest love.”  He explains that his real name is in fact Jack Worthing and Cecily is an elderly Aunt. The banter between Jack and Algenon relating to the limited height of his supposed Aunt Cecily is absolutely hilarious. Algernon confesses to Jack he has a fictional friend ‘Bunbury’ who has extremely poor health and requires regular visits. The dialogue between Jack and Algernon is flawless, with Jack (Earnest) confiding that Cecily Cardew (Jenny Jones) is his 17-year-old ward, who has a Governess Miss Prism (Tiki Clark). Wilde adds spice to this complicated scenario as Algernon Moncrieff’s cousin, is indeed Gwendolen Fairfax, the daughter of his aunt the influential and imposing Lady Bracknell (Jane Wing), who plays a pivotal role in the story. John met and fell in love with Gwendolen in London when he is known as Earnest. Winning her heart, however, she strongly desires to marry a man with the confidence-inspiring name of Earnest.

When he asks for Gwendolen’s hand from the formidable Lady Bracknell, John finds he must reveal he knows neither his mother or father, but is a foundling who was left in a handbag at Victoria Station. Lady Bracknell responds: A handbag!! To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution. This is of course very disturbing to Lady Bracknell, who insists that he produce at least one parent before she consents to the marriage. Those familiar with this wonderful play will know the line: To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.  A lovely scene for one of Wildes most influential characters, Jane looked as if she enjoyed every minute. Who can blame her.

On his return to his Hertfordshire country home, John confronts Algernon, who has arrived assuming the identity of the non-existent brother Earnest. Algernon falls madly in love with the lovely Cecily, who it transpires has long been enamoured of the mysterious, fascinating brother Earnest. The unexpected arrival of Gwendolen to surprise her betrothed Earnest really puts the cat amongst the pigeons, as Cecily informs her that she too in indeed engaged to Earnest. The audience is always aware that Earnest does not exist and that Jack and Algernon are both pretending to be him.

The scene between Cecily and Gwendolen where they both think they are engaged to the same Earnest is a delight.  Jenny Jones is charming as the independent Cecily, a free spirit with a passion for romance. Louise Ellinson embodies the sophisticated Gwendoline, good stage presence, exudes confidence has great comic timing.

Though there are principal characters, The Importance of Being Earnest is ultimately an ensemble piece, in which all the characters contribute to the story unfolding. The romantic pursuit of the blissfuly unaware Dr Rev Chasuble (Graeme Smith) by Cecily’s Governess Miss Prism (Ticki Clark)) is very amusing and well played.

David Oliver as servant to (Algernon) Lane and as Butler to (John) Merriman gives a beautifully timed comic performance. His demeener  reminding  the audience of the class distinctions and social attitudes of the time.

The simple stage design works well allowing the scenes to move from Algernon’s London flat to Jack’s country house. As do the charming costumes and props which are well chosen and help set the play’s time and place.

With the arrival of Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen in Hertfordshire, chaos erupts. It is discovered that Miss Prism is the absent-minded young nurse who twenty plus years previously misplaced the baby of Lady Bracknell’s brother. Absentmindedly placing the baby, not a manuscript, in a handbag leaving it at Victoria Station. John being that misplaced baby we now realise is named after his father Earnest. Meaning he is Algernon’s elder brother, and the play then ends with the two couples in a joyous embrace. What more could we ask for.

‘The Importance of being Earnest’ is not an easy play to perform with the quick wordy exchanges, witty verbal delivery expected of the actors. This production at The Gladstone Theatre directed by Gareth Jones doesn’t disappoint. There are laugh out loud moments as the cast deliver Wilde’s well-known witticisms. It is amazing how familiar and surprisingly relevant they are.

Thank you, Bebington Dramatic Society, for inviting me to what was a really entertaining evening of live theatre. Judging from the audience reaction the evening I attended, it was a great success.