The Importance of Being Earnest at West Walls Theatre
Written by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Caroline Robertson
Poetry in motion. A sumptuous feast for the soul. I could go on for hours and hours utilising every expression I have ever learnt to extol the virtues of the Green Room's latest production The Importance of Being Earnest, but, as per most things in life, Wilde pipped me to the post so I'll use his words instead; '[This production] seems to me to be in every way the visible personification of absolute perfection'.
Earnest is one of those rare productions where absolutely everything comes together perfectly. Excellent actors cast in perfect roles, a wise, witty and prosaic script, engaging story, gorgeous staging, exquisite costumes and, on the night I attended at least, an entranced audience utterly captivated by the spectacle.
Unusually, I must comment on the staging and scenery first and foremost. The all black and white art deco inspired set created by Sarah Waters is one of the finest and most striking I have ever seen created for amateur theatre. A strong original concept beautifully crafted into reality. Even if nothing had happened on the stage for two hours, I'd still have considered the production little short of a masterpiece for it's design qualities alone.
The Green Room is blessed by having an incredibly talented pool of actors and actresses to call upon and first time director Caroline Robertson has managed to assemble an impeccable cast to breathe new life into an old classic.
Michael Spencer brings his trademark physical humour to the role of Jack Worthing, a part traditionally played more uptight and still, but pulls it off with a performance so thoroughly earnest there could be little doubt as to what his true name would be uncovered to be in the closing moments of the show. He rattles through Wilde's occasionally lengthy dialogue without the slightest hesitation and at remarkable pace, especially in scenes alongside Seb Coombe's laid back and debonair Algernon. If ever there was a man born for a role then surely Coombe was always destined to play frivolous and foppish Algernon, maintaining a self satisfied charm that was resilient to even the most inconvenient of plot development. The pair shared a delightful chemistry with beautifully subtle vocal and physical similarities eluding to their shared history. Two finer leading men you'd struggle to find.
As foils to the gents, Lexie Ward and Emma Norgate as Gewndoline and Cecily very nearly succeed in stealing the show. Ward perfectly pitches Gwedoline as an up-and-coming Lady Bracknell in waiting. A sweet and gentle veneer concealing a sharp and waspish soul unleashed at the slightest provocation. Norgate meanwhile frames Cecily as a sickly sweet butter-wouldn't melt child with the conniving heart of a sulking and dangerous teenager. Both are brought into sharp focus during the most passive aggressive tea serving scene in the second act one could wish to witness. The sheer venom being spat backwards and forwards between the girls while on the surface politely enquiring about cake was a joy to witness and had me almost squirming in my seat with delight.
The supporting cast all perform admirably in their roles, David Bamford delivers perhaps the slowest dialogue I have encountered outside of a Pinter play, but can be forgiven for making the most his material. Jenny Pike as Miss Prism I feel may have been slightly unwell the evening I saw the performance as she was unusually quiet in her role as the handbag losing Governess, but battled through courageously.
And speaking of handbags, finally I must come to Lady Bracknell herself. Or himself, perhaps. I'm not normally a fan of needlessly gender swapped roles but, on this occasion, I must admit I was completely and totally won over by Green Room veteran John Metcalfe's performance. It took precisely the amount of time for Lady Bracknell to walk the length of the stage and take a seat for me to completely forget I was witnessing a man take on the role at all. For all there may have been occasional stutter or slight dialogue fluff, Metcalfe's expression and wordless delivery of the plays most famous line was worth the price of the ticket alone.
The Importance of Being Earnest has long since been one of my favourite plays to see on the stage and the Green Room's production ranks as amongst my favourite interpretations of Wilde's masterpiece. Considering this is Robertson's first attempt at
leading a production, one can only wonder how she could possibly top it