I saw this production of Oscar Wilde's comedy "The Importance of Being Earnest" , at the Haymarket Theatre in 1999 and since then it has toured Australia and New Zealand. The wonderful Patricia Routledge is the production's only original cast member to return to the West End. I thought it was a good production back then, and again with Christopher Morahan's direction and a new cast, the show has lost none of its sharpness.
The story concerns Jack Worthing's complicated relationship with Gwendolen Fairfax, the daughter of the formidable Lady Bracknell. Jack wants to marry Gwendolen, but first he has to convince Lady Bracknell that he is suitable, which is not easy, particularly when he reveals details about his parentage. To add to his problems he's been telling everyone, including Gwendolen, that his name is Earnest and just as he decides to tell the truth he discovers that Gwendolen is infatuated with the name Earnest and desires to marry a man by that name. Then to make matters worse his ward, Cecily, has fallen in love with his rascal of a friend, Algernon.
This Oscar Wilde play, written in the summer of 1894, while on holiday with his family in the town of Worthing, has many witty lines such as "I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train", and "To lose one parent…may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness." In fact, so good is the script it is very hard not to like the play, no matter how bad the acting is. However, this production is a quality one with the terrific Patricia Routledge as 'Lady Bracknell' leading the way. As she did when I last saw the show, Routledge captures the essence of the character brilliantly, looking and sounding very fierce! Patricia Routledge is a very accomplished actress who has theatre credits spanning Broadway, the West End and both the RNT and RSC. Her West End appearances include 'Mrs Malaprop' in "The Rivals" at the Albery Theatre in 1994. However, most people will know her for her portrayal of 'Hyacinth Bucket' (pronounced 'Bouquet') in the long running BBC comedy series "Keeping Up Appearances".
Alistair Petrie is a convincing 'John Worthing' , with his debonair pose and charm. Although, I'm a little unsure about Theo Fraser Steele as 'Algernon', as he does not portray his character as a charming rogue but more of a clown! But nevertheless, his performance is still enjoyable. There are worthy performances from the rest of the cast, most notably Essie Davis as ' Gwendolen', and Sarah Kants as ' Cecily' that make this a fine production.
The show has received good reviews from most of the popular press… SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT says, "Theo Fraser Steele makes a willowy Algernon Moncrief but largely fails to time properly the delivery of Wilde's sharp paradoxes." He goes on to describe Patricia Routledge as "Brilliant". NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Anyone in search of escapist theatrical treats will find themselves surprisingly well-served by Christopher Morahan's much-travelled production." He goes on to say, "This Importance is a sheer delight." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Routledge has changed since I saw her 18 months ago, mostly for the better.... she's now more genuinely intimidating." CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "The chief glory is Routledge's Lady Bracknell. As solid as the rock of Gibraltar, and no more biddable, she takes to the stage with a massive assurance." ALEKS SIERZ for THE STAGE says, "A sunny and enjoyable production." However, MADDY COSTA for TIME OUT was not too impressed with the play saying, "Morahan's quaint, tasteful, stilted presentation is a detrimental reminder that the play is an antique from another age entirely." And goes on to say Routledge is a "disappointment", saying "her poise is immaculate, but she speaks so slowly…"
A very entertaining two and half hours of pure theatrical delight. Treat yourself, go see it now!