A faultless production that provides laughs throughout. David Suchet gives an excellent performance as Lady Bracknell. A must-see for any theatre lover!
Incredible. Magnificent. Marvellous. Phenomenal. I am not entirely sure that there are adjectives that do justice to last night’s performance of The Importance of Being Earnest at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre.
On a bitterly cold and drizzly evening, some can find no greater solace than to head to the theatre in the hope of witnessing a production that lifts your spirits and warms your heart. Oscar Wilde’s most memorable creation came to The Mayflower Theatre last night and was able to do just that.
The Importance of Being Earnest primarily centres around two pompous aristocrats – Algernon Moncreiff (Philip Cumbus) and John Worthing (Michael Benz). Both live a secret life, separate to the one their respective families and friends know, but each are aware of the other’s. Worthing pretends to have a brother called Earnest, whom those closest to him believe he goes to visit often in the city, whilst Moncreiff tells his family that he has a sickly friend called Bunbury who he attends to in the country. The play follows the two as they wittingly create a web of lies that sees them in hot water, whilst also attempting to win the affections of Hon Gwendolen Fairfax (Emily Barber) and Cecily Cardew (Imogen Doel). However, both have to get past the ever inquisitive and equally as stuck-up Lady Bracknell, who is played by the legendary British thespian, David Suchet (Agatha Christies’s Poirot).
Having been brought up in a household where crime and who-done-it dramas, such as Midsummer Murders, Lewis, Spooks, and of course Poirot, were quite often on the television, I became very familiar with the faces who starred in them. Therefore, when it came to my attention that the great David Suchet was to portray Lady Bracknell in one of the most enduring plays in British theatre, my expectations for his performance and by extension the entire production, were, understandably, extremely high. Thankfully however, Suchet and indeed the rest of the cast lived up to these expectations and I would quite happily say, even managed to surpass them!
From the very off, Philip Cumbus as Moncreiff and David Killick as his manservant Lane had the audience laughing. Quite often in theatre, it can take a little while to get the audience warmed up and into the swing of things, but the actors in this production were able to do this with immediate affect. Cumbus, in particular, was very humorous, particularly in his mannerisms, comedic timing and delivery. Michael Benz did a fantastic job as Worthing, portraying the character wonderfully. The chemistry and camaraderie that Benz and Cumbus shared on stage was also very impressive. The scene in act two in which they scoff muffins during an argument is easily the comedic highlight that the pair share.
Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell is one of the most iconic comedy characters in theatrical history. She has been portrayed by the likes of Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench both on stage and on the silver screen. However, I feel that David Suchet blew them out of the water. He played Lady Bracknell with such elegance and grace that you simply forgot within moments of him appearing onstage, that he was a man playing a woman. His uptight posture and disapproving looks thrown at the leading men are expertly delivered.
Theatre veterans Michelle Dotrice (Miss Prism) and Richard O’Callaghan (Rev. Canon Chasuble) also provide hilarity in their roles. The flirtatious nature the pair have on stage is a joy to watch and certainly provides the silly humour that is similar to that provided by Dogberry and Verges in Much Ado About Nothing. Emily Barber and Imogen Doel also provide exceptional performances, in particular the former. It is worth noting that Barber only graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in 2014, but despite this she gives a performance equal to her more experienced colleagues and more than warrants her inclusion in this cast. The contrast in the characters that Barber and Doel portray provides great entertainment, particularly in the third act. The elegance and sophistication of Barber as Gwendolen works wonders alongside the naivety and not-so-innocence of Doel as Cecily.
Overall, there is not a single thing I can fault in this performance. The actors involved portrayed their respective characters perfectly, director Adrian Noble ensured that all of Oscar Wilde’s famous lines that poke fun at society remain, and the comedic timing and delivery was exquisite. David Suchet gave the audience a real treat and was of course, the standout performer. This is highlighted and epitomised by the standing ovation that greeted him at the end.
I could not recommend The Importance of Being Earnest more highly. If you are able to purchase tickets and get down to the Mayflower one evening this week, I can promise that you will not be disappointed!
The Importance of Being Earnest is at The Mayflower Theatre in Southampton until Saturday 6th June. Tickets can be found here, with prices ranging from £19.50-£35.00.