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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Importance of Being Earnest
Vaudeville Theatre Winter-Spring 2008

What is surely the wittiest play ever written, with virtually every single line a joke or aphorism, is always well worth seeing, even in a production such as this one that takes a long time to get up to speed.

Oscar Wilde's plot - two guys chasing two girls, both of whom have it in their heads that they can only love a man named Earnest - is merely the skeleton on which to hang one languid and laid-back zinger after another. And even if they don't all score, the average is higher than just about anyone else can approach.

That said, I should warn you that Peter Gill's production starts very slowly, and for much of the first act newcomers to the play may wonder what all the fuss is about.

Algy (William Ellis) and Jack (Harry Hadden-Paton) are a little too aware of their own wit, and the actors tend to recite their lines portentously, pausing after each for laughter whether it comes or not. Daisy Haggard's Gwendolen is appropriately stylised and artificial, but with no one to bounce off, she seems to have come out of some other play.

Penelope Keith has clearly chosen to play the imposing Lady Bracknell more naturally than many of her predecessors, but in the first act she underplays almost to the point of invisibility. Even the classic line about the handbag goes by practically unnoticed.

Things perk up significantly in the second act, and are really rolling by the third. The scene between Gwendolen and Cecily (Rebecca Night) plays delightfully, both actresses hitting just the right note of stylised mock-sincerity. And the guys relax somewhat as well, Hadden-Paton in particular finding a buffoonish side to Jack that is both funny and endearing.

And by the time Lady Bracknell reappears to react to the convoluted working-out of the plot (Need I remind you that it involves a baby misplaced years ago by an absent-minded nurse?), Penelope Keith is in full flow, giving the star performance we were waiting for, and with everyone else keeping up with her.

So by all means go and enjoy the evening. Just be patient and sit through the slow start - the good stuff is coming.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Importance of Being Earnest - Vaudeville 2008