Th’ Importance of Bein’ Earnest by Oscar Wilde ☆☆☆☆☆
Drayton Arms Theatre
I must confess I had reservations about this production when I read it was to be relocated to a North Yorkshire Council Estate. Whilst I’m all for putting new wine in old bottles, if done wrong it can be a woeful disaster. But whilst I adore Wilde’s writing, his plays can now feel like irrelevant museum pieces, their only treasure the moments of sharply sparkling wit. And whilst this play is full of them, traditional productions in Victorian dress can often be dreary and laboured. So I went with an open mind, because, how bad can it be, really?
It’s Wilde at his luminous best, skewering the English ruling class of his day with the Trojan horse of this well-crafted play. I’m very happy to report that I was proved wrong. Gloriously so. This immaculate production pulls off with hilarious aplomb a bold and joyful reimagining of Wilde’s play. The minor alterations to the original script are apposite and necessary. Mostly, it sticks to the original with brilliant results, as these characters are brought to life in an entirely original and engaging way.
From making the butler Lane into Algernon’s flatmate to reimagining Gwendolen as a lusty and voluptuous Yorkshire lass with a sharp tongue and a passion for life, not to mention leopard print leggings. Every single minute of this production was a joy to behold and the rough Yorkshire dialects bring fresh blood to Wilde’s skewering of the English ruling class.
There are shades of Andrea Dunbar’s Rita, Sue & Bob Too, which is no bad thing. The handbag scene – notoriously delivered by Edith Evans in the 1952 film version of the play – is here rendered entirely new by the wonderfully controlling and piss-elegant Kitty Martin. The relationship between Miss Prism and Dr Chasuble is given a whole new lewd dimension by Janna Fox and Rob Pomfret, and James King is positively Beckettian in the silent comedy be brings to his minor roles, often in danger of stealing the show.
Directors Luke Adamson and Toby Hampton have brought a raucous and raw relevance to Wilde’s dusty drawing rooms, blasted them with a new, invigorating humour; even the most over-heard of Wilde’s quips are recast with tremendous impact. They have used physical comedy to recharge the anarchic qualities of a play that is all too often seen as a safe go-to. I can’t recommend it enough.
https://www.thedraytonarmstheatre.co.uk/ until February 23rd
Review by Jonathan Kemp
Queerguru London Correspondent Jonathan Kemp writes fiction and non-fiction and teaches creative writing at Middlesex University. He is the author of two novels – London Triptych (2010), which won the 2011 Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award, and Ghosting (2015) – and the short-story collection Twentysix. (2011, all published by Myriad Editions). Non-fiction works include The Penetrated Male (2012) and Homotopia?: Gay Identity, Sameness and the Politics of Desire (2015, both Punctum Books).