BWW Review: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST, Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
We get - of course - the aphorisms that still sound fresh for all the mythology built up over the last century or more. There's the "sensational" diary for the train; the trumping of sincerity by style; and the horror at the handbag - and much much more. Are they overly familiar? Well, if there was a drummer to provide a "boom -tish!" after some of the lines, he would hardly have been out of place.
But "Earnest" is about more than the wit, the wisdom and the Wilde - it is a play after all, so does it work in these populist times in which it pays more to hide one's vituperative tongue lest Twitter and phone-ins explode with witless insults in the kind of leaden language that Wilde abhorred? The smartarsery holds its own, but only just. It jars, the satire feeling a little too fragile to stand up to the broad coalition of the narrow-minded so dominant just now.
I saw a show early in the run and the cast were a little stiff, but I expect that they will ease into their roles and more of the lines will sound like conversation rather than announcements - it's the curse of the reviewer (especially with comedies) to see shows that are still settling in, the on-stage chemistry still warming over the bunsen burner of developing stagecraft.
Daniel Hall and Riley Jones give us the posh boys, Algernon and Ernest (or is it Jack?), with Hall nicely balancing his airy confidence against Jones's insecurity, as they woo their women with duplicitous stratagems. As the objects of their pursuit, Sophie Mercell's Gwendolen is pert and pouty, but Emily Rose Clarkson as Cecily gets the best lines and is much the most accomplished of the cast in exploring the physical comedy that lurks beneath the dazzling wordplay.
Harriet Earle has the thankless task of playing Lady Bracknell, a part now delivered in drag as often as not, so much has it become a setpiece / cliche. Earle has the mien of Queen Mary (and the carriage of The Queen Mary in some wonderful dresses) and, to her credit, does not milk the more famous lines unnecessarily. That said, she does need to dominate the space more with voice as well as presence to extract the full potential from one of British Theatre's iconic comic roles.
Director Sarah Redmond stages the production on a set the colour palette of which is black and white, with squares and straight lines drawing the eye rather too insistently in so intimate a space. If she can get her cast to explore the shades of grey and relax into the little gaps in a script within which comic timing weaves its magic, the show will feel less like the 0815 from Victoria to Worthing, stopping at Clapham Junction, East Croydon and all stations after Haywards Heath and, instead, zip along like the Gatwick Express.