Oscar Wilde plots don’t come much more convoluted than The Importance of Being Earnest. Yet the adventurous Barn Theatre in Cirencester is weaving its way through this familiar maze of mistaken identities with just two actors. This certainly makes for a rumbustious production, although at times the approach totters disconcertingly close to knockabout farce.
The ingenious device is that the producer and stage manager suddenly discover their cast’s bus has broken down, so decide, in the great show-must-go-on tradition, to play all the parts themselves.
Ryan Bennett, previously seen at the Barn in Daddy Long Legs, and Aidan Harkins are in frenetic mode as they race through Jack Worthing’s and Algernon Moncrieff’s duplicitous wooings, changing costumes at breakneck speed, both managing to play the iconic Lady Bracknell – on occasions in the same scene.
Director Bryan Hodgson’s Keystone Cops-style means, however, that far too many of Wilde’s classic witticisms are passed over as mere conversational asides, although employing mime for the most famous line of all – Lady Bracknell’s “a handbag!” – is a clever touch.
The delicious, if not exactly prim and proper exchange of barbed insults at the first meeting between Bennett’s coquettish Cecily and Harkins’ resolute Gwendolen, is also one of the production’s highlights, but the other participants in the lovers’ machinations – the teetering Dr Chasuble and the prattling Miss Prism – are on the far side of caricature.
Company stage manager Sami Wood rightly takes a curtain call for the speed in which the plethora of costumes and props arrive on stage.