The Importance of Being Earnest (4 stars)

Mark Thomson’s Lyceum production utilises recent Romeo and Juliet cast and includes ‘lost’ fourth act

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The Importance of Being Earnest

Oscar Wilde’s most celebrated comedy is one of those rep theatre staples that is almost guaranteed to bring in a sympathetic audience. The play is so familiar, in both its premise and as a vehicle for its creator’s witticisms, that you can almost hear the audience around you preparing to laugh even before the famous lines have been spoken. In Mark Thomson’s recent production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Lyceum an audible ripple of excitement runs around the auditorium as we approach Lady Bracknell’s outraged ‘A handbag?’ How is Alexandra Mathie, playing the formidable matriarch, going to tackle one of the best-known lines in the popular theatre? In the flamboyantly withering manner of an Edith Evans or in a more understated way?

For all its consummate construction and sparkling dialogue, Earnest can easily be derailed by performances that don’t quite strike the right balance between straight playing and camp. Much has been made of the fact that Thomson is using virtually the same cast here as in the Lyceum’s recent production of Romeo and Juliet, yet this ensemble seems tailor-made for Wilde’s fruity farce. Mathie and Melody Grove (as Lady Bracknell’s self-confident daughter Gwendolen) are particularly comfortable with the verbose dialogue, giving poised, relaxed performances, while Sean Murray and Cara Kelly are equally compelling in the supporting roles Canon Chasuble and the governess Miss Prism.

Thomson’s production is also enriched by the inclusion of the ‘lost’ fourth act: scenes hastily removed by Wilde at the behest of his original producers. The scene, in which Algernon (in the guise of Earnest) is pursued by the solicitor Gribsby for debts racked up by Jack (playing Earnest) further complicates the web of deceit woven by the feckless leads, while Wilde satirical lampooning of grasping solicitors and the threat of imprisonment against Algernon, is a chilling reminder of the playwright’s own sad fate shortly after this play’s completion.

Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 20 Nov

The Importance Of Being Earnest

  • 4 stars

Mark Thomson directs Oscar Wilde's comedy of misunderstandings, double lives, Ernests and a handbag. BSL performance Wed 10 Nov 7.45pm. Captioned performance Sat 13 Nov 2.30pm.

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