Although it was first staged just short of 121 years ago, Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, still feels fresh and, well, earnest. Even in reading the text, the vigour with which each character lives their lives is infectious; in performance it becomes a feast of vivacious madcap antics. Earnest fits the style of the Gate theatre perfectly, and Patrick Mason does a superb job with it.
Marty Rea’s acting has always impressed me, but in this production he truly came into his own, revealing perfect comic timing and a flair for face-pulling akin to Danny Kaye. Of the three portrayals of the character of Jack Worthing I have seen, this is the only one that I feel does justice to the character. The rest of the cast all deliver impressive performances, with every actor pulling their weight. Particularly notable were Lisa Dwyer Hogg and Lorna Quinn making the perfect duo as Gwendolen and Cecily, bouncing the energy of the two characters back and forth with sharp but easy precision.
From here, I wish to turn to the set, designed by Francis O’Connor. Few sets can capture the tone of a piece and the nuances of the characters that inhabit each setting as well as O’Connor’s does. With a relatively bare pre-set, we have little clue as to how much the set is going to bring to the production (though the addition of an image of Wilde on the back wall was a clever and playful touch!). Soon however, the many surprises of the set are revealed as a whole host of sliding panels and extensions transform into the home of Algernon Moncrieff, with everything a well-to-do dandy could want, through a garden, to the home of Jack, the polar opposite of the foppish Algy.
Wilde himself described Earnest as “exquisitely trivial,” and that was certainly the feeling in the auditorium at the Gate. I regretted wearing eyeliner as tears of laughter streamed down my face; from polite titters to uproarious belly laughs, the room rippled almost constantly with a wave of collective laughter. This production of The Importance of Being Earnest is a lively, smart and suitably irreverent evening of Wildean wit and frivolity.
The Importance of Being Earnest runs until 6th February 2016.