The Importance of Being Earnest Review

June 13, 2010

Two words. Elanor Methven. Quite frankly the only reason worth forking out however much it is to go see Rough Magic’s The Importance Of Being Earnest at the Gaiety theatre. It’s not a bad production but given the calibre of the cast one can’t help feeling that it is merely perfunctory and works rigidly to the guidelines that can make Irish theatre such a weak brew.

Mugging performances that italicise the humor rather than finding the circumstances that engender them; powerful individual characters that work independently of one another; And a desperate desire to give audiences what they think they want instead of what their production requires.

TIOBE is perhaps the most perfectly structured play of all time,so well written it is almost actor proof. But it’s familiarity is such that the cast and crew need to work extra hard to put the fact that we the audience are are watching a real life situation- however exaggerated- develop rather than a group of actors on a stage. That doesn’t happen here as the audience wait impatiently for the best bits and erupt like trained seals when, say, the handbag line is spoken. (Kudos to Channing for her comical delivery)

As the two Ernest’s the two Rory’s are pure pantomime, so much larger than life that they eventually  become listless. Nolan in particular makes the ruineas error of having his Algernon perform for us, and all around him, rather than for his own entertainment. His character is thoroughly unlikeable fueled by ego rather than any great sense of mischief.But credit where credit is due- he commits to Cecily’s( a decent Gemma Reeves) flights of fancy in their seduction scene making it one of the plays best.

Keenan makes for a dour Jack, too dour to credibly win the affections of Gwendolin(Aoife Duffin), residing in such a state of stress he makes all other character traits, actions and desires irrelevant. No effort is made to charm his lady love( or more   importantly her safe guard) making us wonder why either would entertain him in the first place and while Duffin brings a terrific sense of fun to their engagement scene  he won’t play ball so committed is he to his choice.

This is a play that relies heavily on exits and entrances and it is to Duffin’s credit that both times she appears on stage she awakens it. She takes the time to establish her pampered little madam so that she is not merely a pez dispenser of withering remarks but a childlike yet determined young woman keen to break free of her domineering mother but on her own terms.

Bringing us to our matinee idol, Stockard  Channing. When she was announced as Lady Bracknell earlier in the season there was no doubt in our mind as to how she would play it. It’s one of this productions few surprises that she doesn’t. It’s not a particularly pleasent one as in swimming against the stereotype she also works against the script, her doddering, tangent loving Bracknell at odds with the deceptive Lady B who broke in the doors of the  establishment but who now fights to uphold it. Her funniest moments are down to costume and posture instead of her way with Wildes words which are given a rather mealy delivery.

Thank god then for Methven, who walks away with show. Even though her character is sheer caricature she gives a little smile, has a little twinkle in her eye that makes her Prism absolutely credible. Her facial dexterity, her use of props and her attention to detail, which is simple yet meticulous, makes her that most rare of Irish actors, a fiendishly hard worker who makes it all seem so easy. Ferociously funny yet not to scared to be anything else this is a performer who should be studied and utilised by theatre practitioners who often rely on the old boys for their fail safe, everybody knows their game performances.

The production design is top class, with Paul O Mahony’s wonderful paneled set allowing for a carnival like swell of activity as we switch from town to country, emboldened by Peter Daly’s commedia dell’arte like performance as Merriman. And Eimear Ni Mhaoldomhaingh bright bold costumes take on a life of their own particularly when draped across Lady Bracknell.

As an evenings entertainment I’ve certainly had worse but given how high my expectations were I can’t help but feel disappointed by the pedantic reading of this piece. Perhaps the cast should return to the title for the key to making this play work and discover the importance of being earnest.


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