Th’ Importance of Bein’ Earnest review at Drayton Arms, London – ‘a clever concept’
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is both an impeccably crafted comedy of manners and a satirical commentary on the mores of the Victorian middle classes.
Class is also at the heart of Luke Adamson and Toby Hampton’s adaptation, relocated to a contemporary Northern setting. Th’Importance of Bein’ Earnest retains the plot but lowers the tax-bracket of the characters. If Oscar Wilde had been a writer on Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, he might have produced an episode like this.
There is much to like about this production from the use of cucumber sandwiches as a euphemism for lines of coke to Lady Bracknell head-butting Jack Worthing when she discovers his deceit.
Because Adamson and Hampton have deliberately chosen not to stray too far from the source text, some things jar with the council estate setting, and the production as a whole doesn’t have the courage of its convictions.
There are some marvellous performances however, particularly Heather Dutton, as a formidable Gwendolen, and Adamson, as a layabout Algernon, swilling beer in his underwear. There’s a fun twist the Prism/ Chasuble relationship too, with Janna Fox and Rob Pomfret comically suppressing their secret sexual liaison, and it’s still a very funny piece of theatre even if this is down as much to Wilde’s witticisms as the re-imagining of the characters