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The Importance Of Being Earnest at the Harold Pinter theatre

Published 18 July 2014

What’s it all about?

Two men create alter egos to bring spice to their lives… like 19th century superheroes, but with less crime-fighting and more cucumber sandwiches. When they fall in love faster than impressionable 15-year-olds, truth begins to tug at the jumper of deceit and the duplicitous pullover begins to unravel. 

Director Lucy Bailey gives Wilde’s classic comedy of class and manners a twist, framing it, with the help of writer Simon Brett, as a production by the in-jokingly titled Bunbury Company Of Players. So Nigel Havers, Martin Jarvis, Cherie Lunghi et al play actors playing Wilde’s parts. It explains why performers of superior years are portraying teenagers and young men.

Who’s in it?

Lunghi and Christine Kavanagh excel at finding the girlishness in the objects of the boys’ affections, Gwendolyn Fairfax and Cecily Cardew, without feeling like experienced performers pretending to be ingénues. There’s breathless delight, youthful vanity and a master class in polite passive aggression.

Havers employs his surely now trademarked wicked charm as a masterfully mischievous Algernon and his thespian counterpart who is a similar hit with the ladies.

Siân Phillips is an exquisite Lady Bracknell, the veteran performer on scintillating form as she delivers quotable line after quotable line of Wilde’s words to comic perfection.

What should I look out for?

Havers’ costumes, which range from unlikely crimson trainers to Peter Davidson-era Dr Who garb.

The moment the cast corpse. Granted, this didn’t happen on press night – and may not have happened during the tour or previews – but there’s always a sense with this group of performers that uncontrollable laughter is rarely more than a misplaced muffin away.

In a nutshell?

Havers and co add handbags-full of fun and frivolity to Wilde’s timeless wit.

Who was in the first night crowd?

It was a night for the seasoned professional, with Giles Brandreth, Jonathan Pryce, Gawn Grainger and Janie Dee amongst the first night crowd.

The two men who continued to wear ties on such a neck-swellingly hot evening also deserve a special mention.

What’s being said on Twitter?

@JenShakesby Really rather enjoyed Sian Phillips’ Lady Bracknell in #importanceofbeingearnest this evening. Good, gentle, tongue in cheek fun. Take Gran.

‏@Louise_Jury Nigel Havers a rather charming Algernon even at twice the age in “oldies” version of Importance of Being Earnest. Loved Sian Phillips…

Will I like it?

When every other line could be plucked from the script and held aloft as an example of witty brilliance, it’s hard not to like a play. While the Bunbury Players setting justifies the casting of elder actors in roles more usually given to their younger counterparts, it’s probably not entirely necessary as the cast, whatever their age, delight in Wilde’s timeless classic.

The Importance Of Being Earnest is playing at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 20 September. You can book tickets through us.

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