I was pleased to see that only a few months after opening and with very strong reviews, The Importance of Being Earnest had finally made it to the TKTS booth and the joy of 25 quid main stalls seats. Hurray! So we decided to have an impromptu Friday night “top quality” theater outing along with Wechsler and Cate (from my office) and go see this Wildean gem, which I had managed to utterly miss in my twenty-two odd years of actively and eagerly going to plays. Sure, I’d read it, but there is nothing like seeing a literary masterwork come to life in front of your eyes (unless it’s a horrible movie you’re talking about – I am only referring to theatrical masterworks), and the heavily loaded text of this show really benefits from getting off of the page and into (and out of) actors’ mouths. Suddenly it all seems like a dinner party attended exclusively by six Dorothy Parkers, only with a bit of plot to hold together the bon mots, or, rather, to give them a little something to hang upon.
The plot? Oh, I’d long forgotten it, and in fact I’d forgotten it enough that I did not remember a plot twist or two. Let’s say that it involves some gentlemen who are most clearly not named Ernest and there’s something about a handbag (rather like the handkerchief in that other play). There is also tea (served twice!), mistaken identities, and a lot of very clever jokes. Actually, there’s pretty much nothing but some very clever jokes that begin as tea is about to be served and end darned near where the handbag shows up, so perhaps these other items are superfluous.
That said, this really was a gem of a production of this clever little play and there’s a lot to recommend it if you like shows where you have to actually listen to what the actors are saying (a habit sadly thrown by the wayside in this era, and one which doesn’t actually seem to help one understand what’s going on when watching Pinter). The initial set is a lovely, gilded Japonaiserie room with a wealth of detail – it looked very appropriate for the time (unlike the costumes which were a complete hodgepodge, at least for the women) if perhaps far nicer than it would have. It was very Whistler, somehow. The second two sets, in a garden and in the front room of a country house, were fine but not nearly so absorbing.
The acting, though, was really what this show was about, as the characters could have done it in street clothes in a black box and still made it come alive. The men (Algie and Jack) were, well, as interchangeable as I recall them, with Algie being slightly more gay (Wildean, perhaps) and Jack a bit more whiny. The women … well, I have to say, seeing this after learning so much more about Victorian behavior, I found them very much not at all like I think real Victorian women would behave and speak! But, then, they were just characters in a play, and each of the actresses made her characters come brilliantly to life, even though Gwendolyn (Daisy Haggard) had a completely bizarre accent – it almost seemed like it was via New Jersey. I even loved Miss Prism, the prior, and the butlers! It was the kind of top-notch crew that one really only seems to get in London – effortless perfection from everyone involved.
At any rate – a very good night out, and highly recommended!
(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, March 28th, 2008.)