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The Importance of Being Earnest review at Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire – ‘gloriously funny’

Alex Hooper and Jack Coleby in The Importance of Being Earnest at Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire

After two summers of invigorating open-air Shakespeare in the gardens of Berkeley Castle, Split Second Productions has moved into the majestic 12th century Great Hall for a wild and wicked re-imaging of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Just two actors, Alex Hooper and Jack Coleby, are tasked with the high-speed re-telling of Oscar Wilde`s society charade, on a month-long tour of some of the most imposing venues in the land. They range from Cheltenham Ladies` College to the Jockey Club Rooms at Newmarket – Lady Bracknell would have approved of the former at least.

Adapter/co-director Bryan Hodgson has stormed the ramparts of Wilde`s play with a rumbustious style that races through the familiar plot, but tends to swamp rather too many of Wilde`s most famous bon mots.

Rapid costume change make particular use of spectacular ladies` hats. Meanwhile, Hodgson extends the duplicity of protagonist Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff, who for most of the time are pretending to be someone else, to the other principals as well.

This works best with the more eccentric roles, notably Coleby`s twittering Miss Prism and Hooper`s doddery Dr Chasuble, while both actors take haughty turns as Lady Bracknell – often in the same scene.

The wooing of Hooper`s Cecily and Coleby`s Gwendolen does involve rather too much popping up from behind screens, although the quick-witted first meeting between the two young ladies remains both gloriously funny and true for once to Wilde`s intentions.

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Verdict
Inventive and gloriously funny new take on Wilde`s classic comedy for just two players
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