dfp_header_hidden_string

Get our free email newsletter with just one click

The Importance of Being Earnest review at Birmingham Repertory Theatre – ‘refreshing’

Fela Lufadeju and Edward Franklin in The Importance of Being Earnest at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Photo: Tom Wren
by -

Almost every line in Oscar Wilde’s comedy of manners The Importance of Being Earnest is a quote. His words have been repurposed as punchlines, on posters and pencil cases.

This new production escapes the cliches normally wrought by the weight of its status as a classic. Director Nikolai Foster has freed Wilde’s text and what we see on stage is the play as it was written, not as consecutive generations of audiences have decided it should be. The handbag is definitely still there, but Lady Bracknell won’t beat you around the head with it.

A sparkling cast commit to Wilde’s characters, and each laugh is well earned through unlocking a witticism from the page, not through some knowing pastiche. Sharan Phull and Martha Mackintosh make for a particularly entertaining double act as Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax, and Edward Franklin has perfected the look of someone caught mid mischief. There’s a true ensemble feel to the production, and while that means Lady Bracknell is less of a linchpin, Cathy Tyson’s hailstorm delivery ensures she is no less formidable.

Designer Isla Shaw eschews the clutter of the era in favour of an unfussy set built from mirrored panels, which provides an efficient conduit to the vanity, decadence and superficiality of Wilde’s world. Metallic balloons, disco lights and dance music lend a city flat the feel of a tacky wedding venue, whilst hanging paper roses and warm lighting bouncing from each wall lend a romantic vibe to the country manor house.

The approach is refreshing if not new, and there are a few slow moments, especially early on. But by taking this comedy seriously, the company has delivered a fun and accessible new production.

We need your help…

When you subscribe to The Stage, you’re investing in our journalism. And our journalism is invested in supporting theatre and the performing arts.

The Stage is a family business, operated by the same family since we were founded in 1880. We do not receive government funding. We are not owned by a large corporation. Our editorial is not dictated by ticket sales.

We are fully independent, but this means we rely on revenue from readers to survive.

Help us continue to report on great work across the UK, champion new talent and keep up our investigative journalism that holds the powerful to account. Your subscription helps ensure our journalism can continue.

Subscribers to The Stage get 10% off The Stage Tickets’ price
Verdict
A refreshing revival of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy
^