The Importance of Being Earnest

  • Theatre
  • Drama
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©Tristram Kenton

'The Importance of Being Earnest'

©Tristram Kenton

'The Importance of Being Earnest'

©Tristram Kenton

'The Importance of Being Earnest'

©Tristram Kenton

'The Importance of Being Earnest'

©Tristram Kenton

'The Importance of Being Earnest'

©Tristram Kenton

'The Importance of Being Earnest'

Seeking to outsmart Oscar Wilde is very unwise. All the same, Lucy Bailey’s undaunted production just about survives the impertinence of meddling with his masterpiece.

The ruse – with additional workaday dialogue by Simon Brett – is that the production is being staged by a home-counties amateur-dramatic troupe who’ve been at it for years. So many years that the younger twentysomethings are now deep into the bogs of middle-age. Never mind that Bill Dudley’s sumptuous set is well beyond the means of any am-dram outfit, the idea is misguided in myriad ways. The comedy of mistaken identities and improbable resolution loses its intergenerational edge – in particular the young women versus elderly Lady Bracknell. But there’s also a danger that their coltish suitors could look like lascivious old sex offenders.

Even so, Bailey’s suave production has enough savoir faire to just about get away with it – thanks to Wilde’s inimitable dialogue, which rises above the vulgarising framing device (‘The suspense is terrible. I hope it will last!’). Serious actors often look smug when sending up civilian counterparts, but that is not Siân Phillips’s way with her imperious, 80-something Lady Bracknell. This is a role to which she is to the manner born, and she despatches Wilde’s sparkling lines deliciously. The only problem is that the rest of the cast are old enough to be her siblings. Christine Kavanagh and Cherie Lunghi bring the last thing any actress should bring to their roles as rival debutantes – maturity. Likewise, Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis’s suitors are a safe pair of hands (another anomalous positive) as two senior citizens whose advancing years lend their libidinal projects some comic absurdity.

Is anything added to the play by this? About 20 minutes. Is it marred at all? Probably. Does it prevail anyway? Certainly.

Average User Rating

4.6 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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Jemima C

Extraordinarily underrated play, if you're a lover of wit then this is absolutely perfect! Completely lost track of time watching it and wanted the interval overwith asap!


I'm only posting this because I think you Wilde fans might honestly like this. It's a MODERN adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, but from a female perspective. It's not a competing theatre company it's a WEBSERIES. It's the classic material but because the POV changed it's still a bit different. Thought some of you might appreciate it. 

LOVED the classical London version by the way. I was thinking the other day of going again with a group of friends before it ends!


Don't let the critics negative reviews (c.f. Telegraph, Guardian) put you off. I laughed a lot during this performance and loved revisiting the sublime words of Oscar Wilde. I didn't care two hoots how old the performers were, and I enjoyed the am dram setting, even if it didn't quite work all the time. I do think Richard Madelove could have tried a bit harder in places. But when he speaks up he is a fantastic actor and totally convincing. Can't decide whether to give it 3 or 4 stars, so I've erred on the side of generosity. Not a must see, but if you do go you will have fun. 

Jo G

Thoroughly enjoyable, fantastically delivered, didn't look at my watch once and the actors maturity added even more to Wildes almost perfect play. The extra bonus was that it only cost £10 with Time Out! A fantastic night out at a beautiful, easily accessible theatre. Highly recommended and a bargain to boot.

Aaron S

I don't think I could agree with the negative aspects of this review less if I tried hard from now until Christmas.  There have, it is true, been some lamentable productions of this classic, but the production at the Harold Pinter Theatre last night was not one of them.  Far from it.  

The question asked is how do you try and do something new with Wilde, and the answer given last night is that you assemble a strong cast of seasoned professionals and tell them to have fun with it.  Yes Ms Kavanaugh and Ms Lunghi have moved on from the first bloom of youth but if you can show me a red blooded male that can't get past that then I will apparently show you a critic who has completely missed the point.  Both actresses, divine in their radiance, had enough of the coquette about their performance to deliver enjoyment, laughs and admiring glances, and it is vulgar to bring performances like that down to an observation of age.

As was rightly observed, Ms Phillips delivered an outstanding and memorable Lady Bracknell stern of word and nimble of mind, whilst avoiding the dangerous trap of cliches in her delivery, but also trusting to Wilde with the words spoken.

Mr Jarvis and Mr Havers were reprising roles that they had played together many years earlier and I think that this was the key to the success of the production.  The two handled the obviously well known and loved dialogue between them like rapiers and the delight that this gave them was evident to the audience and also heightened the performance.

I agree that looking for new things in this play is dangerous but I think Ms Bailey has pulled it off spectacularly well and delivered a modern classic performance.  Well done to all concerned, and I would encourage the writer of this review to be a little less 2 dimensional in their scribblings when dealing with national treasures.