“Importance of being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde, Penrith Players.

Directed by John Davies

For their 2018 October production, Penrith Players chose “The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde – a sparkling perennial of the English theatre, rated  by many to be the “perfect farce” and beloved for a century by both the professional and the amateur theatre.

Director John Davies gathered a talented and enthusiastic cast to bring to life his vision of this “charming, joyful and immaculate” classic.

Set in the mannered upper class world of butlers and muffins and repressed sexuality, the fast moving plot and lively characterisations work seamlessly together to subvert conventions, and as the play unfolds, to bring about order out of the chaos of  inter generational conflict and deception.

This crisp production allows Wilde’s epigrammatic dialogue to take centre stage.

James Hurrell (John Worthing) and James Cooper (Algernon Moncrieff) the young men-about-town (and country…) spared with a wicked and quick fire enthusiasm. Their demanding  duologues were a joy, Algernon’s almost menacing deviousness subtly portrayed in contrast to John’s  more studied sense of outrage.

Equally enjoyable to watch were their  female counterparts, Jo Thomas (as Gwendolyn Fairfax) and Paige Mackay (Cecily Cardew).  Again, polished enunciation and excellent pace allow Wilde’s wit and style to glitter, while maintaining the subtle differences and attitudes of these frighteningly witty young ladies.

Viv Moules took the part of the implacably conventional Lady Bracknell, whose arch disbelief (“a handbag?”) in the face of Algernon’s revelations as to his true origins, is one of the most famous moments in English theatre. To this  undoubted challenge Viv rose brilliantly, allowing the script its freedom in a way only experienced and talented actors can do. A well judged performance  seamlessly combining Bracknell’s supreme respect for  convention, with her collapse in to  helpless outrage when she is eventually appraised of the true story behind Jack’s position in society.

As the several complex sets of  deception begin to unravel, Sarah Beeden gave an excellent interpretation of Cecily’s  governess,  Miss Prism, using her wonderful eyes to communicate a wide range of emotions to  the audience. David Bamford’s performance as the Reverend Chasuble, her “admirer”,  was an excellent foil to her nervous confusions/confessions, the two injecting a freshness at this late stage of the play. Another clever double act.

Of course nothing at all would happen in the grand town and country houses without the wit and discretion of the butlers, played  by Roger Bird and Jonty Rostron. Small parts but with some of the best lines in the play, delivered with dead pan elegance in each case.

Lizzie Acland.

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