Skip to content

The Importance of Being Earnest

by on 3 November 2022

Camping Sights

The Importance of Being Earnest

by Oscar Wilde

Rose Original, English Touring Theatre and Leeds Playhouse at The Rose, Kingston until 12th November

Review by Gill Martin

Over the decades some of the greatest of theatrical greats have played the formidable Lady Bracknell in Oscar’s Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, his most popular satire: Edith Evans, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Penelope Keith and David Suchet.

They have all delivered that memorable line ‘A handbag?’ with degrees of dismay, disbelief, outrage and horror when discovering the birth history of their daughter’s suitor.  This production though is probably the first for a drag queen.  Now Daniel Jacob takes on the role with the panache gained from international recognition as his drag queen alter ego Vinegar Strokes and appearances on RuPaul’s Drag Race UK and Drag Karaoke Club.

Lady Bracknell certainly enjoys plum lines in this slick, sharp farce.  Gags come in hilarious profusion, putting the fun into dysfunctional families and debunking dated attitudes to class, gender and sexuality.

“To lose one parent, Mr.  Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness,” she tells the young John (Justice Ritchie) who is madlyin love withGwendolen (Adele James).

“To be born, or at any rate bred, in a handbag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution.”

Director Denzel Westley-Sanderson has brought together a cast that puts colour centre stage.   He says: ‘If seeing black people who look stunning in Victorian dress, who were rich, who weren’t just on the plantation, prompts some curiosity about black Victorians.  I’ll be very happy.’

The costumes are a splendid confection of ruffs, feathers and flounces, with Lady Bracknell, encased in brocade, as sturdy as well-upholstered sofa.    She lumbers like a tank on manoeuvres while the rest of the cast are hugely energetic, flitting across a clever, quirky set with see-through walls and eye-catching paintings.

Spats and silver-handled canes, cucumber sandwiches and cucumber Martinis declare a certain class.  Algernon Moncrieff is a foppish young gentleman from London, the nephew of Lady Bracknell.   He’s a lovable cad, a dilettante artist played with assurance by Abiola Owokoniran his professional debut.  Keep an eye on his career.

It’s also a first theatrical outing for Phoebe Campbell, an animated performer, who plays Cecily, the object of Algernon’s affections.

There is not one weak link in this cast, from Joanne Henry as Cecily’s governess Miss Prism, Anita Reynolds as Dr. Chasuble and Valentine Hanson who nails two characters: manservant Lane and butler Merriman.

Wilde’s Trivial Comedy for Serious People was first performed on Valentine’s Day 1895.   It marked a huge high, but at a time of a disastrous downfall in his life during an era when homosexuality was illegal.  His lover’s father, the Marquess of Queensbury, schemed to present the writer with a bouquet of rotten vegetables and disrupt the show.  The plan failed but the feud climaxed in a trial when Wilde was convicted of gross indecency and jailed for two years.   Victorian society was outraged and the play closed after just 86 performances.

Far from spinning in his grave I reckon the wonderfully witty Wilde would have relished re-telling this play with a drag queen as star turn.

Gill Martin, November 2022

Photography by Mark Senior

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: