It is as if a grand Victorian dame has finally been allowed to unloosen her corset.
Ashley Cook as Algernon Moncrieff, Paul Sandys as Jack Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest at the Hull Truck Theatre Photo: Sheila Burnett
London Classic Theatre’s production has unshackled Oscar Wilde’s comedy - which seems less a mannered drawing room farce as an exploration of one man’s quest for his own identity.
Key to this is Paul Sandys’ stand-out turn as Jack Worthing, whose bewilderment about his past lends him a scratchy brittleness.
Under the direction of Michael Cabot, these members of the English upper classes seem flesh and blood, rather than mere mouthpieces for Wilde’s sharpened wit.
Ashley Cook, as Algernon Moncrieff, is so languid it as if his bones are made of jelly in the opening act, but he too reveals something less guarded - less certain - when he finds himself falling for the flighty Cecily Cardew (Helen Phillips).
It remains extremely funny but there’s no sense of the lines being played for laughs. Lady Bracknell’s famed query - “A handbag?” - is a bewildered, dismayed question rather than an outraged shriek in Judith Paris’ icily measured performance.
With Kerry Bradley’s artfully stripped back set - a group of chairs and a suspended trio of giant, fading roses - the attention is fully focused on these well-known characters. They seem, somehow, to be hiding their real selves under the layers of Victorian decorum.