Kate Budgen’s production of Oscar Wilde’s evergreen comedy The Importance of Being Earnest is one of warmth and laughter – a chance to live almost entirely for pleasure for two hours.
The love-hate ‘bromance’ between the foppish Algernon and dandyish Jack at the play’s centre is winningly played by Peter Bray and Benedict Salter.
Connie Walker makes a girlishly-voiced but still formidable Lady Bracknell, offering a clear glimpse into how Claudia Jolly’s exacting Gwendolen might well turn into her mother. Charlotte Beaumont’s delightful Cecily is the embodiment of wide-eyed energy and precocious convoluted logic. Everything is held together by the laudable timing of Morgan Philpott, who is always on hand to catch various flying objects.
Amy Jane Cook’s design combines the 1890s with something more modern. The period costumes are nattily accessorised with William Morris prints (the men’s waistcoats are particularly gorgeous) and a chintzy print serves as a backdrop. The use of deliberately anachronistic plastic props, however, feels like an uneasy compromise. Lady Bracknell would be rightfully appalled by the prospect of tea in polystyrene cups.
The spirited performances, the couples’ enthusiastic embraces (examples of early film show that the Victorians weren’t as shy about public displays of affection as we might think) and the play’s topsy-turvy scenarios still have the charm to win over audiences, making for a delightfully summery production.