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The Importance of Being Earnest review at Avenue Theatre, Ipswich – ‘a thoughtful reworking’

The cast of The Importance of Being Earnest at Avenue Theatre, Ipswich. Photo: Bill Jackson

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest has been wonderfully re-imagined by Joanna Carrick in her production for Red Rose Chain as a play within a play.

The production opens in the 1960s and sees Merriman (Antony Carrick), the butler of Wilde’s play, about to retire. His employers, who call him one of the family, are packing up and moving on, resigned to change and the end of their era of grand houses and live-in servants. Merriman’s room is full of memories and as Wilde’s play, and his past, come to life around him, his presence and asides add a fresh poignancy.

Carrick’s lean, literary productions always get to the point, without losing any of the punch. Performed in the round, there is movement and energy throughout that makes the past feel alive.

Above the stage on copper wires hang black and white photographs and 1960s record covers, a constant reminder how powerful sensory memories are, linking Merriman’s past and his present.

The delivery and pace from all the cast is delightful, with Carrick’s direction pulling out physical gags and asides that connect the play directly to its audience.

The dialogue really does sparkle in this production, with every line hitting its target.  Laurence Pears, as both Miss Prism and Algernon  Moncreiff, is hilariously precise in his delivery. Leonie Spilsbury particularly captures the formidable determination of Gwendoline Fairfax, although  one wonders what she or Lady Bracknell would think of their descendant moving to “a four-bed in St Albans”.

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Sparkling performances hit the mark in this thoughtful re-imagining of Wilde’s classic comedy