By Isabella Fraser
This is a glorious romp through a classic play, aided and abetted by the pedigree of acting talent onstage. The sharp wit of Oscar Wilde’s writing does not date as it sparkles in this new, entertaining and gently adapted version. Based on the conceit of a group of modern day amateur thespians, the Bunbury Company of Players, who, despite being very much on the mature side of characterization, perform The Importance of Being Earnest, this works as a play within a play. With enough of a hint of the background action in putting on a play to make certain the audience is in on the gag, director Lucy Bailey ensures the on-stage action is performed with tongue firmly in cheek. Bad timing is extremely well timed by this lively veteran cast as they alternate between the two lives of the plays.
The majority of the dual storyline of modern day versus The Importance of Being Earnest is contained within the first act, which is a little disappointing as the skill in going between Wilde’s text and Simon Brett’s additional text is impressively parried by this strong cast. Wordplay bounces around the stage, with pithy interjections and one-liners sparking much laughter from the audience. More humour is gained through awareness of the ages of the cast and the age they are purported to be in Earnest: this allows the audience to embrace the dichotomy of the piece and become immersed in the unfolding storyline of the Earnests.
As a double act, Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis light up the stage. Havers in particular plays to his strengths in letting his larger-than-life charm shine through as Algernon – watch out for his wink, which deserves a special mention of its own. Jarvis’ Jack then becomes a natural foil to this with his own brand of delightfully old school humour. Sian Phillips as the infamous Lady Bracknell is an imposing figure and brings her own inimitable strength to the role.
Not all areas of the piece are successful – there are a couple of flat moments where more pace or a bigger reaction to key points could help lift the meaning of the text. A tip – not only is there a play within a play, but also a programme within a programme – you can read all about the Bunbury Players there, the icing on the cake of an entertaining night out.
The Importance of Being Earnest runs at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh until Saturday November 14 @ 7.30 pm, with matinees on Wednesday & Saturday @ 2.30pm, then touring to York and Glasgow. Running time is 2 hours 20 minutes.