Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Theatre Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest
By Oscar Wilde
Directed by Chris Honer

Library Theatre, Manchester: Saturday 5 June - Saturday 3 July 2010

Review by Paul Kane

Russell Dixon (Lady Bracknell), Photo by Gerry Murray


With this strangely delightful production the Library Theatre, for the moment at any rate, loses its home. It will leave the current venue, where it has been performing plays for over half a century, once the current run of The Importance of Being Earnest comes to an end.

Little, precious little, is taken seriously in Wilde’s great play; it can hardly keep a straight, or indeed an earnest face. Despite this jollity – and it almost goes without saying that it is a supremely entertaining play – there is an unflinchingly subversive reach on show here. Everything is mocked, all is fair game: Wilde’s wit shoots down all the conventions and core values of his age. And in doing so he makes us smile.

The masterstroke of this production is to cast Russell Dixon as Lady Bracknell: he is superb, a queerly arch gatekeeper. To have a man in the role of this senior, authoritative ma’am – and for it be unremarked upon by Algernon and the rest - casts a most peculiar light on proceedings

You knew where you were with Lady Bracknell, or at least you thought you did. She was the most strait-laced of Wilde’s creations. She was the one who pulled all the other characters into line, and into happy marriages. Now that we discover that she is a genderqueer matron, her moral compass seems decidedly dodgy. Or off kilter somewhat. Something is happening, but you don’t quite know what it is.

It is fun, though.

The doors have not closed quite yet, but it is clear that the Library Theatre has saved the best till last.

The Importance of Being Earnest is showing at the Library Theatre until 3 July. Don’t miss it.

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