Most of us are familiar with the classic Oscar Wilde play: two friends find themselves caught in a trap when they both masquerade to be a man named Earnest in order to woo the loves of their lives. When fearsome Lady Bracknell causes further obstacles – will the two men ever truly realize the Importance of Being Earnest?
I’ll admit The Importance of Being Earnest is my favourite play – its witty, poignant and beautifully written. Done well, it’s a masterpiece, and Original Theatre Company have done this exceptional play justice.
Directed by Alastair Whatley, the cast fit together like a dream – each bringing a stamp of individuality to the role that fits believably within the plot itself and with each of the other characters’ interpretation.
Thomas Howes is exceptional as Algernon. You may know him from his turn as the meek William in Downton Abbey, but his role here is bold and delightful. His character isn’t arrogant and aloof as many productions portray – here, Algernon is frankly just a bit of a laugh. This contrasts well with Peter Sandys-Clarke’s Jack Worthing, a reliable and rather straight-laced man with a secret… he wasn’t born, so much discovered… in a handbag.
The two main love interests are quirky and original, Hannah Louise Howell bringing the fiery Gwendolen Fairfax to life while Louise Coulthard is a naive and flighty Cecily – perfect for the entitled and excitable Algernon.
Finally we come to Gwen Taylor as Lady Bracknell. Perfection, in my humble opinion. There’s no silly posh accent and huffing and puffing, no overly-dramatic lines – she is utterly believable and utterly brilliant. I’ve normally seen the part played with an element of pantomime, but this isn’t necessary here – Gwen Taylor absolutely brings her A-game.
The storytelling is great – the audience laughs throughout at what is a funny play made even funnier through perfectly delivered lines and subtle physicality. There is something truly unique about an essentially farcical comedy that can have you in tears when the happy ending comes together. Bravo to all involved.
Seriously, don’t miss this show – catch it at York Theatre Royal until 21st April.
Photograph credited to James Findlay.