06 September 2005


I went with a couple of housemates last night to see a (professional) production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Oxford Playhouse. It was a decent production of one of the most linguistically titillating plays I've ever seen.

The acting was a bit of a mixed bag. The guy playing Algy was just a
little too stiff, especially in the first act. Jack was better, but
both of them spent a lot of time crossing back and forth aimlessly and
holding their arms behind their backs. I never got the feeling that
they slipped into character (again, especially during the first act).
Gwendolen and Cecily were both better, and both gave off a much more
continuous vibe of personality. Cecily especially seemed to develop a
real character and stayed there for the whole show.

The play's brilliance relies, however, on executing Wilde's sparkling dialog, and only Cecily managed to consistently pull it off. The gentlemen spent too much time squaring 'round to address the
audience and ponderously doling out Wilde's elaborate witticisms. What the text truly requires is a light-footed, dextrous handling akin to fencing: attack — parry — attack — retreat. Lady Bracknell was a further disappointment since she seemed to frequently get caught in mid-tirade, trying to remember what to say next. She (perhaps more than all the rest) needs to have an unperturbable cadence bred in by a lifetime of English society. The others had similar issues (where they'd lose the train of thought for no apparent reason) but not as often. One particularly bright spot was the bloke who played Lane (the servant in the first act) and Merriman (the servant in the second act). His invented story about the inability to procure cucumbers "even for ready money" was one of the few times when Wilde's text was done justice.

The staging was mostly simple and well done. Doors were flown in and out mid-scene to arrive just in time for entrances and exits. It was a nice bit, providing a mix of open space and demarcation when needed. I was annoyed that the doors were so poorly made as to shake and shimmy any time somebody touched them, however.

All told a very nice night at the theatre.

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