Pitched as Oscar Wilde’s most famous play, and one of the most popular romantic comedies in the English language, The Importance of Being Ernest proves itself to be all that and so much more. This is a sparkling, classic performance that although doing little more than having fun with itself and old-fashioned values, is an absolute pleasure to watch.
Jack Worthing uses the pseudonym Ernest to escape into the city, while his friend Algernon Moncrieff adopts the same name to escape into the country. When Jack falls for Algernon’s cousin, Gwendolen, and Algernon for Jack’s ward Cecily, both under the name Ernest, the result is hilarious confusion, convenient coincidences, and a whimsical narrative about love and ideals.
Stuart Halusz (Jack) and Scott Sheridan (Algernon) well and truly steal the show with their brimming energy and electric exchanges. Adriane Daff (Cecily) is notably charming in her role, and it is worth applauding the strong performances by Rebecca Davis (Gwendolen) and Jenny Davis (Lady Bracknell). The cast of eight are spectacular as an ensemble, positively galloping through scenes. It is easy to become invested in them.
The careful direction (Kate Cherry) put into this play to captivate the audience is hugely successful. The work of the vocal coach (Julia Moody) and movement coach (Lisa Scott-Murphy) is obvious, with the performers projecting extraordinary accents and fully utilising the space provided. Coupled with Lynn Ferguson’s striking costume design, Oscar Wilde’s fabulous characters leap from the stage.
The set design (Alicia Clements) is exquisitely crafted, intricate and thoughtful, and yet beautifully simple at the same time. The subtle changes in lighting (Trent Suidgeest) and a gentle background layer of internal and external sound (Ash Gibson Grieg) complement the performance, although the focus really is on the explosively witty dialogue.
At the beginning of the second act, there was a temporary lull in energy. Whether this was a deliberately slow section of the performance is unclear, but the pace did eventually build back up towards a vibrant conclusion and a second curtain call. It is a testament to this classic play that not once was the effect of the Victorian humour lost on its audience, which laughed raucously throughout.
Sometimes there is nothing more enjoyable than a light-hearted, wildly witty performance, and this is what the collaborative work of the cast and creative minds behind The Importance of Being Ernest have achieved. While the performance is nothing new, it is an enchantingly funny, feel-good Victorian remedy to our busy, contemporary world that leaves its audience in good spirits.