New Era Players: The Importance of Being Earnest, at New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from September 7-10 and 13-17
First presented in the West End in 1895, how the audience in those days must have loved the fresh wit and comic lines of The Importance of Being Earnest. The play still inspires gales of laughter even today, although many people laugh in anticipation of the best known lines. New Era's production was certainly new, had original touches and there were some sterling performances in the leading parts.
Alexander Greenwood-Forkin as Algernon and Sam Prentice as Jack produced believable characters that they developed throughout the action. Pippa Higgins and Emily Beck played Gwendolen and Cecily bringing out all the charm and, later, cattiness of those two young ladies impressively. Carol Hultmark as Miss Prism was suitably straightlaced and Peter Hendrickx made a fussy Rev Chasuble. Merriman and Lane, the butlers, were played by Tom Buckingham, over-acting rather in the early scenes.
However, the decision to play Lady Bracknell as a quiet, sweet old lady was ill-advised. Janet Bennett worked hard to create a believable character but, sadly, it just didn't work. The whole point of the tension throughout, between the two young couples and the formidable Lady Bracknell, is that she is seen as a commanding presence with a voice that will shake walls.
Jack refers to her in the narrative as 'such a gorgon' and 'a monster'. If she doesn't deliver the brilliant Wilde lines with authority and conviction, it does not – will not – work. Many of the best lines here were lost or thrown away and the famous description of the contents of the 'handbag' – 'a three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality' – was completely mangled. All of which was unfortunate, because in every other way this was a first-class production, extremely well acted and paced, with pauses used effectively and a very professional approach by everybody.
At one point all the lights went out plunging the theatre into darkness momentarily, but the two actors on stage carried on as though nothing had happened. Well done Pippa Higgins and Emily Beck. You saved the day and ensured that an otherwise smooth production continued to the end.
© 2016 Newbury Weekly News
(in order of appearance)
Lane - Tom Buckingham
Algernon Moncrieff - Alexander Greenwood-Forkin
Jack Worthing - Sam Prentice
Lady Bracknell - Janet Bennett
Gwendolen Fairfax - Pippa Higgins
Miss Prism - Carol Hultmark
Cecily Cardew - Emily Beck
Reverend Chasuble - Peter Hendrickx
Merriman - Tom Buckingham
Exquisitely trivial, a delicate bubble of fancy; in which all trivial things of life are treated seriously and all the serious things of life are treated with triviality.