With its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek, Graham McLaren’s effervescent new production plays fast and loose with Wilde’s irony-laden subtitle, A Trivial Comedy for Serious People. And, indeed, it would take an audience with a serious sense of humour deficiency not to revel in an evening of minutely observed characterisations, meticulous comic touches, broad humour, outrageous cross-dressing and acerbic social comment, all wrapped up in the luscious aesthetic of Robin People’s exquisite design.
Melody Grove (Gwendolen), Richard Orr (Miss Prism), Paddy Jenkins (Rev Chausable), Paddy Scully (Lady Bracknell), Ailish Symons (Cecily) and Aaron McCusker (Algernon Moncrieff) in Importance of Being Earnest at the Lyric, Belfast Photo: Steffan Hill
The lights go up on an elegant, high-ceilinged anteroom, hung with monochrome Beardsley prints and set with straight-backed, dove grey velvet chairs. To the strains of an unexpectedly kitsch but mightily catchy pop soundtrack, Niall Cusack’s pernickety butler Lane enters, fussily picking at imaginary specks of dust, checking that all is in order for the arrival of the formidable Lady Bracknell (Paddy Scully). One by one the familiar characters emerge and slowly build a devastatingly satirical group portrait of the Victorian class system. The four young leads - Aaron McCusker’s louche Algernon, Patrick Moy’s puppyish Jack, Melody Grove’s breathily passionate Gwendolen and Ailish Symons’ coquettish Cecily - make a formidable quartet, never missing a beat in their sharply enunciated verbal exchanges and swiftly escalating misunderstandings. Scully’s lavishly wigged and bustled Lady Bracknell comes on like a ship in full sail, while Orr, costumed like a latter-day Mrs Doubtfire, shamelessly milks every line for laughter. If these two occasionally seem to have wandered onto the wrong set, it’s hard to deny their larger-than-life presence in this wickedly subversive delivery, which one imagines would have been right up Wilde’s street.