The extent to which audiences know and love this play is very evident at Derby, where many waited in anticipation for the closing line and chorused it softly with the actor. It’s a very jolly production by Katie McAleese and one where it isn’t just the best-known lines that get a laugh – as spoken here, “The Brighton Line” turns out to be even funnier than “A handbag?”
Minor characters are memorable too. The hand of Susie Baxter’s wonderfully fluttery Miss Prism goes not to her heart but to her pelvis when a perspiring Dr Chasuble (Timothy Kightley) is stumbling through his classical allusions. Philip Dunbar does a Jekyll and Hyde with Lane and Merriman, playing a suave, cultured butler in London and a noisy and insolent slammer-down of cups in the country.
Nick Caldecott is a puckish Algernon. His wild, curly hair gives him a boyish look that accords nicely with Ellie Beaven’s child-like Cecily with her sashes and virginal tresses. By contrast, Robert Hastie’s sober-suited Jack is old before his time, but his comfortable Gwendolen, delightfully played by Caitlin Mottram, can be a bit grumpy too. This is clearly a match made in heaven.
Highlights include Prism’s delight at the return of her handbag – she puts her head right inside it as if to sniff every corner – and Algernon’s interrogation by Lady Bracknell, a stunningly costumed businesswoman with whom one does not mess. Christina Greatrex is perfect in the role, with a commanding stage presence and a brilliant sense of timing. Great fun.
The Playhouse, Derby, January 27-February 24
- Oscar Wilde
- Katie McAleese
- Derby Playhouse
- Cast includes
- Susie Baxter, Ellie Beaven, Nick Caldecott, Robert Hastie, Caitlin Mottram
- Running time
- 2hrs 15mins