REVIEW: The Importance of Being Earnest

A Timeless Delight: The Importance of Being Earnest

One of our young reviewers, Saff Jarvis, shares her thoughts on HangFire Theatre Company’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

Show Title: The Importance of Being Earnest (reproduction by HangFire Theatre Company)
Venue: Wykham Theatre, Wykham Park Academy, Banbury, OX16 9HY (venue change due to temporary closure of The Mill Arts Centre, Banbury)
Date Attended: April 15th 2024

Oscar Wilde was known to be witty even down to his titles, and HangFire Theatre Company’s reproduction of his comedic play, “The Importance of Being Earnest”, continued this legacy with playful charm. With a misty memory of the plot, I headed to the Wykham Theatre in Banbury anticipating an evening of theatrical brilliance.

Set in a lavish drawing room and country estate in Victorian England, the play follows the antics of two young gentlemen, Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, as they navigate love, mistaken identities, and societal expectations. Red velvets, silk skirts, bright flowers, and silverware adorned the stage, instantly transporting the audience to the world of the Victorian upper class. The set and costume design exuded the elegance and grandeur of the era, providing a visually stunning backdrop that perfectly complemented the intricate dance of manners and misadventures unfolding on stage.

The acting was a true highlight of the production, with each member of the cast delivering stellar performances that brought their characters to life with nuance and depth. From Jacob Anderton’s charming portrayal of Algernon Moncrieff to Jamie Brown’s endearing depiction of Jack Worthing, every actor embodied their role with charisma and flair. Standout performances were also delivered by Jacqueline Phillips as the imperious Lady Bracknell and Charlotte Ryder as the eccentric Cecily, both of whom commanded the stage with their impeccable timing and presence. Lauren Waine cannot go without mention also, having seamlessly personified Wilde’s strong-minded and comically pretentious Gwendolen.

Wilde’s script, with its razor-sharp wit and biting satire, was brought to life with finesse, drawing out both laughter and moments of reflection from the audience. The play’s exploration of themes such as identity, social class, and the absurdity of societal norms felt as relevant today as it did when it was first written, prompting viewers to consider the parallels between Victorian society and our own. The production invited audiences to consider how far we’ve come as a society—and how much remains unchanged.

My only and – minor – critiques include that the pacing of the opening act felt a little prolonged, though it bears value in easing us into the important and charming dynamic of the play’s protagonists, Jack and Algernon. Additionally, while the production made clever use of lighting to create different moods and atmospheres, notably the warm glow of a sunlit afternoon in rural Hertfordshire, there may have been missed opportunities to further explore its potential. However, it’s worth noting that these limitations could be attributed to adjustments required by the venue change to the school theatre. These minor shortcomings neither hold gravity in comparison to the overall success and elegance of the play’s other attributes, nor do they diminish the weight of the cast’s impeccable performances.

Throughout the performance, the audience’s engagement was palpable – even the most earnestly serious cracking a smile or laugh in the more comedic moments and a hushed silence descending during the more poignant scenes. It was clear that the production had struck a chord with its viewers, eliciting a range of emotions and reactions.

Overall, HangFire Theatre’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest” was a resounding success, offering audiences an evening of pure theatrical delight. From its impeccable acting and stunning design to its sharp script and engaging direction, the production captured the essence of Wilde’s timeless comedy while also offering fresh insights for modern audiences. This rendition of Wilde’s classic reaffirmed the enduring appeal and relevance of one of the greatest comedies in the English language and the casting and acting was second to none.

5 out of 5 stars.

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