Review: Super cast in The Importance of Being Earnest at Brighton Theatre Royal

Lady Bracknell, Sian Phillips
Lady Bracknell, Sian Phillips

A stellar cast and superlative acting turned the Theatre Royal’s production of Wilde classic, The Importance of Being Earnest (until October 4) from familiar repertory fare into sparkling delight.

As well as the immaculate stagecraft you’d expect from these theatrical performers, Rosalind Ayres, Niall Buggy, Patrick Godfrey, Nigel Havers, Martin Jarvis, Christine Kavanagh, Cherie Lunghi and Sian Phillips have all perfected crystal vocal delivery. What a change, my colleague said, from mic-ed up comics and TV actors who can hardly allow their faces the luxury of a fleeting expression.

The audience hung on every word, particularly those of Sian Phillips as Lady Bracknell whose ‘A handbag?’ brought the house down.

Nigel Havers (Algernon Moncrieff) is such a talented actor with experience of stage, screen and studio, we assume everything will be faultless - as indeed it is, even down to his physical presence on stage. Plaudits too to the rest of the cast, particularly Martin Jarvis (John Worthing,) Christine Kavanagh (Ellen O’Brien) and the glorious Cherie Lunghi (Maria Clifford.)

All the famous Wildean quotes are there, oft repeated but no less accurate. “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does and that is his.” “The good ended happily and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.”

The Bunbury Players provide a ‘framing’ device to bookend Wilde’s play, delivering a new and successful dimension to the well-worked classic. Director Lucy Bailey and designer William Dudley said: “We decided that the Bunburys were a group of sophisticated individuals living in a wealthy town in the Home Counties devoted to Oscar Wilde. We were intrigued with the challenge of creating a framework allowing older actors to take on the younger roles in the play. The idea of the Bunbury Players was appealing - a company of non-professional actors who had revived their cherished performance of The Importance so many times that their own characters have become almost indivisable with their Oscar counterpart.”

This is a truly theatrical evening full of witty aphorisms, the crispest of crisp one-liners, world-class performances and a celebration of Englishness. Catch it if you can.