It feels as though all the stops have been pulled out for Perth Theatre’s new version of Oscar Wilde’s drawing-room comedy, its main production for the spring.
Louche fops Jack (a breathlessly physical Daniel Cahill) and Algernon (Grant O’Rourke) revel in their lives as men about London town who lead convenient double lives in the country. Director Lu Kemp has explicitly sharpened some of the lines, many of which still hold true; Algernon’s flighty declaration that “more than half of modern culture depends on what one shouldn’t read”, for example, or the timeless motto “we live, I regret to say, in an age of surfaces.”
Unremitting snobbery can be darkly amusing and Karen Dunbar – an outstanding stage and screen actor whose celebrity status in Scotland has been made much of in the lead-up to this production – is an inspired choice as the imperious Lady Bracknell.
Her withering put-downs about Jack’s inauspicious background and nostril-flaring fury when crossed are delectable. Yet Dunbar’s fierce comic prowess doesn’t overshadow the fine cast, with Cahill, Caroline Deyga and Amy Kennedy each doing great work, especially given the amount of character doubling required for budgetary and comedic reasons.
O’Rourke’s Algernon is a comic tour de force. He’s a sly, duplicitous wretch whom it’s impossible not to warm to and his physical comedy skills are superb, as illustrated by a perfectly timed stumble on to piano keys or the pop of a champagne cork. Like Jamie Vartan’s set of vintage furniture and ambience-changing sliding wall units, this superior revival is so smoothly executed it appears effortless.