A play by Oscar Wilde.
Performed by New Era Players.
Reviewed by Julia Gasper
New Era Players were very fortunate that their outdoor production of The Importance of Being Earnest, at Shaw House, Newbury, last Saturday took place in perfect summer weather. The terrace behind this Elizabethan manor-house, framed by ancient yew-trees, makes a perfect stage, and an even more ideal setting for the second and third acts of the play which take place at John Worthing’s country house. The period was updated to the 1920s which allowed for a lot of pleasantly jazz-era songs to be played in the background.
Any production of The Importance of Being Earnest must stand or fall on its Lady Bracknell, and in this rôle Nancy Danks was excellent. Imposing, dominating and bossy, she nevertheless managed to be very entertaining and often likable, not just a caricature. Pippa Higgins as Gwendolen was poised and determined, giving many hints that she would in time become rather like her mother. Her elegantly draped costume, on her tall, willowy figure, reminded me of some of the gorgeous outfits seen in Downton Abbey. Emily Beck as Cecily Cardew was likewise spirited, though dressed in a naïve fashion, and the confrontation between the two girls when they think they are rivals for the same man was done with icy cold politeness. There is only one flaw in the plot, which is that both men cannot turn out to be called Ernest, so Cecily has to jettison her prejudices and deign to marry a man named something else.
Alex Greenwood-Forkin was clearly reveling in the rôle of Algernon, the dandy, delivering his lines with crisp and witty precision as far as possible while also munching cucumber sandwiches. Sam Prentice as Jack was appropriately worried, harassed and anxious throughout, and frequently furious with Algernon who out-Bunburies him. They made a good pair. As Miss Prism, Carol Hultmark was lively and youthful, quite a catch for the elderly Canon Chasuble (Peter Hendrickx). Graham Salter added just faintly comic touches to his role as the butler, Merriman, in a subtle way.
I wondered what the sixth-formers in the audience made of this play. Those I asked agreed that it was extremely old-fashioned, but they still found it funny and entertaining. How would they react if told by their parents whom they could marry? With uproarious laughter, I expect.
Oscar Wilde was not a nice person, and should not be held up as a hero. What about all the perjury, the erotic poems about boys, and the pervasive snobbery? He treated his wife cruelly, shattered her life and sent her to an early grave an early grave. Her tragedy matters as much as his. As for Lord Alfred Douglas, he was one of the most unpleasant people imaginable. Even before he died, Wilde realized and confessed the tragic delusion he had been under in that respect. However, the wit and insouciance of The Importance of Being Earnest live on, and will always make an ideal entertainment for an audience who wish to while away a summer’s evening on a smooth lawn, sipping wine or Pimms and enjoying the ambiance of an English country house.
(in order of appearance)
Lane – Stephen Bennett
Algernon Moncrieff – Alexander Greenwood-Forkin
Jack Worthing – Sam Prentice
Lady Bracknell – Nancy Danks
Gwendolen Fairfax – Pippa Higgins
Miss Prism – Carol Hultmark (Thur & Sat), Vikki Goldsmith (Fri)
Cecily Cardew – Emily Beck
Reverend Chasuble – Peter Hendrickx
Merriman – Graham Salter
To find out more: http://neweraplayers.org/