24 November 2011

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest
17 November 2011
Sumner Theatre
to 14 January 2012

The Importance of Being Earnest is pretty much sold out. As Simon Phillips's  original 1988 production is still talked about, tickets to its revival were swooped upon. And the promise of Geoffrey Rush as Lady Bracknell certainly helped. The good news is that standing room spots are being released. So is it worth some queuing and tired legs?


It's gorgeous and fun and the joy of watching our Geoffrey is worth a leg cramp.

To round off his final season of plays about the perils of being wealthy and middle class, where else could Phillips go but back to Oscar Wilde's satire of Victorian sensibilities and the mask of manners. First produced in 1895, its ridiculous story is balanced by its wonderful plot and a love of language and wit that few have come near to matching. In other words, it's one of the funniest things ever written.

From the first sight of Tony Tripp's re-realised design, there's no doubt that this Earnest should please even the most cynical. His black and white pop-up book set has delicious hints of Victorian erotica that contrast with the feathers, lace and velvet of the frocks, umbrellas, hats, handkerchiefs and handbags. It's sparseness leaves space for the text, while the complexity of the costumes establishes the expectation of the characters so that the cast are free to let them be so much more than what's expected.

And none frock up more magnificently than Rush. Treating the text like music, he doesn't miss a beat or a grace note and his restrained and refreshingly straight Lady B lets her power comes from more than her age and position.

And he is among a Wilde-wet-dream cast: Patrick Bramwell (Algernon), Toby Schmitz (Jack), Christie Whelan (Gwendolyn) Emily Barclay (Cecily), Jane Menelaus (Miss Prism), Bob Honery (Lane and Merriman) and Tony Taylor (Chausable). Some are less comfortable with the language and there are moments when giving in to the rhythm of the text will free the laughs, but each surprise and bring something unexpected to the well-known characters.

As Simon Phillips's MTC swan song, Earnest soars above criticism, so keep your tickets safe or try for the rare spots left.

This review originally appeared on AussieTheatre.com.

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