Oscar Wilde’s classic farce indulges to a state of gluttony – aptly embodied by Fergus Head’s muffin-stuffed Moncrieff. Scarcely delivering a line without spitting a crumb, you wonder how Head can stomach the additional Saturday matinee.
Director Kirsten Millar opts for a faithful rendition of the original script. Wilde’s words alone are enough to tickle titters amongst the tightest-lipped of audiences, and the six-piece offer a deft delivery. Gordon Stackhouse is a convincing Jack, bouncing off Head’s enthusiasm – and the walls and furniture – with endless energy. In a moment of anger, Stackhouse snatches the afternoon tea set from Head so hard that he turns red. Indeed, Stackhouse and Head’s early interactions are wonderfully lively, detailing Jack’s ‘Ernest’ predicament, and Algernon Moncrieff’s (quickly shed) scepticism towards marriage.
Ishbel McLachlan’s shrill Lady Bracknell certainly owes more to Edith Evans than the more restrained Judi Dench. Despite her unrestrained volume, each line – whether her contempt towards Bunbury’s undecided state of health, or the infamous ‘handbag’ – is delivered with comic precision. No stranger to the role of comedic protagonist, McLachlan is perhaps the natural Bracknell. Her mere stage entrance often triggered laughter (and some snorting) amongst audience members. Aine Higgins’ Gwendolen Fairfax shares more with her mother than the same shade of lipstick and a penchant for chignons. Even her coyest suggestions are delivered with a glare so assertive to suggest mild sociopathy. Georgie Carey’s deluded diarist Cecily offers a welcome balance to the cast’s commanding glares.
Though true to the production’s Victorian setting, the orthodox staging and props would have profited from a little polish. Yet, this is easily overlooked – the audience’s eyes are plenty distracted darting between the energetic six-piece.
What’s in a name? It is no mean feat to tackle Wilde’s most playful piece. Nevertheless, there’s something about this puffed-up performance which inspires my absolute confidence.
The Importance of Being Earnest runs at the Bedlam Theatre until 29 February 2020.