Oscar Wilde’s farcical tale of societal pomp, mistaken identity and greedy muffin consumption is played out with particular aplomb as Citizen Theatre faithfully brings The Importance of Being Ernest to life within the lavish interiors of Como Historical House.
Wilde’s time-honoured tale sees old friends John ‘Jack’ Worthing (Rory Godbold) and Algernon Moncrieff (Nelson Gardiner) engaged in a battle of exceedingly pithy wits, as they both assume the false identity of Jack’s fictional brother Ernest in order to win the hearts of their respective beloveds, Gwendolen Fairfax (Lauren McKenna) and Cecily Cardew (Hannah Fredericksen), via a string of well-meaning deceits and good-humoured double-crossings.
Taking one of the historic house’s main drawing rooms as its playing space, this site-specific production uses its surrounds to great effect. Despite relatively minimal set-dressing and simple lighting, the transition from Algernon’s bohemian bachelor pad to Jack’s country estate, with the simple rearrangement of a few tables, is surprisingly effective. Athough I would have loved to have seen the action relocated to another of the house’s lavish interiors for the second act.
Solid performances abound, with particular commendation to Gardiner as the cheeky and debonair Algernon, whose strong command of the text and effortless timing serve Wilde’s razor sharp wit flawlessly – even through mouthfuls of cucumber sandwiches.
McKenna and Frederickson are also electric, particularly in their scenes together as the unwittingly rivalled love interests, where the sweetly barbed dynamism between the two women is truly delicious.
Godbold’s portrayal of Jack, however, is a little confusing. Sadly a great deal of the character’s natural charm and charisma is lost amidst the decision to extend his comparatively conservative sensibilities to the point where he is almost insufferably neurotic. His hapless bumbling and intermittent moments of childlike glee however, do serve to endear him.
Jayde Kirchert’s direction is strong and although this is by no means ground-breaking theatre, this faithful reproduction of one of Oscar Wilde’s best-known comic masterpieces shines with an original vitality that is simply delightful.