The Barn Theatre, Southwick Community Centre.
April 10, 11, 12 & 13, 2002.
The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
Phil Balding – John Worthing
Kevin Isaac – Algernon
Claire Wiggins – Gwendolyn
Candice Gregory – Cecily
Olive Smith – Lady Bracknell
Hugh Hemmings – Lane
Rosemary Mose – Miss Prism
Derek Fraser – Dr Chasuble
Simon Druce – Merriman
Linda Mostyn – Maid
Stage Manager – David Comber
Assistant to the Director – Caroline Blick
Lighting Design – Mike Medway
Lighting Technician – Chris Grey
Sound – Simon Snelling
Set Design – David Comber
Set Building – David Comber
Set Building – David Collis
Set Building – Brian Box
Set Building – Mike Davy
Set Building – Marc Lewis
Set Painting – Sheila Neesham
Properties – Sue Whittaker
Properties – Margaret Davy
Wardrobe Team – Margaret Pierce
Wardrobe Team – Cherry Briggs
Wardrobe Team – Judith Berrill
Hair Design – Sheila Neesham
Press & Publicity – Rosemary Bouchy
Press & Publicity – Rosemary Brown
Press & Publicity – Judith Berrill
Box Office – Margaret Murrell
Front of House Co-ordinator – Valerie Bray
Programme Note #1: The Importance of Being Earnest
MO wrote: “The impact of The Importance of Being Earnest on the first night audience of 1895 can only be imagined. To be invited to laugh at the pretences and foibles of the aristocracy would have been shocking, but, oh such fun.
I wonder about Wilde’s impact on theatre and television had he been born 100 years later. What a chat show guest! What plays he would have written! he may even have been offered a knighthood. Would he have accepted? I think so.
The Importance of Being Earnest is well known for having been written one summer in Worthing, which is the name given to our hero and there allusions in the names of Lady Lancing and Lord Shoreham. Oscar was clearly inspired by his sunny surroundings for his play is light hearted and full of fun. Much of the plot is about the ‘grand art of lying’. His characters practice this with panache, coming across entirely sincere.
And there’s a story behind the comic opera aspect of Act III, Gilbert and Sullivan wrote the comic opera Patience, parodying the aesthetic movement and a notable member, Oscar Wilde. Wilde replied by using elements of Gilbert and Sullivan in this act, when at times the characters speak and move in unison and the feel-good factor of the operetta is reflected in the Cinderella ending of the play.”
Publicity #1: The Importance of Being Earnest
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: March 28 2002 issue – Leisure Scene Section – page 8
Text Header: “Wilde classic to be performed at Barn Theatre”
Sub Header: “Earnestly yours …”
IT’S Wilde, witty and wonderful, and the choice for the award-winning Wick theatre Company’s next production. The Importance of Being Earnest was written by Oscar Wilde during a summer stay in Worthing.
Two young heroines, Gwendolen, cousin to Algernon Moncrieff and Cecily, John Worthing’s ward, are quite convinced that each can fall in love with a suitor called Ernest. They are over the moon when both are courted by gentlemen claiming to have that magic name. But since Gwendolen’s admirer is actually John Worthing pretending to be Ernest, his own non-existent younger brother, and Cecily’s beau is none other than John’s friend Algernon, masquerading as that same younger brother, are they heading for bitter disappointment?
The plot is further complicated by Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen’s autocratic aunt, Miss Prism, Cecily’s absent-minded governess and a certain important handbag.
Director Margaret Ockenden and her cast are well experienced in this kind of lively period comedy. The cast includes Phil Balding as John Worthing, Kevin Isaac as Algernon and the two heroines Gwendolen and Cecily are played by Claire Wiggins and Candice Gregory. Olive Smith appears as Lady Bracknell and Rosemary Mose as Miss Prism.
The Importance of Being Ernest is performed at the Barn Theatre, Southwick from April 10 to 13, at 7.45pm.
Box Office : 01273 597094
Review #1: The Importance of Being Earnest
Publication: Shoreham Herald
Publication Data: April 18 2002 issue – Leisure Scene Section – page 7
Reviewer: Frank Horsley
Text Header: “Wilde night lights up the Barn”
BEATIFIC smiles, possibly even bordering on smug, lit up the Barn Theatre, Southwick, last week. When you’re about to utter one of Oscar Wilde’s witticisms, goodness knows how many facial muscles you have to rein in to stop yourself breaking out into a full beam and blinding the audience. Not that we minded being dazzled one bit as we basked in a sun-drenched version of The Importance of Being Earnest by Wick Theatre Company. Cast, set and lighting combined under Margaret Ockenden’s direction to produce a warming evening’s entertainment. Just the sort of frivolous fare you need, with kiss-me-quick references to Worthing, Lancing and Shoreham, to remind you the nights are drawing out and the silly season will soon be here.
The previous time I saw Olive Smith on stage, as Lady Catherine de Burgh in Pride and Prejudice, I believe – because of the feather in her headgear – I likened her to a demented parakeet. Here she was again, presumably with a different feather in her hat, playing yet another lady – the one and only Bracknell. This time, her demeanour was more hawkish than, well, parroty, and there was no way this old bird was going to fall off her perch before she was good and ready.
In the battle of the sexes between the artful liars Algernon Moncrieff [Kevin Isaac] and John Worthing [Philip Balding] and the apples of their eyes, the Hon Gwendolen Fairfax [Claire Wiggins] and Cecily Cardew [Candice Gregory], the ladies, in acting terms, won on points – but not by so great a margin as to create a fatal imbalance.
As for David Goodger’s the Rev Canon Chasuble, what can one say about the over-the-top Mr Goodger, other than he seems to have his own little fan club at the Barn who go along solely to laugh at his florid interpretation of every character he plays. Just as well, then, that every character he plays is by no means the shy, retiring type.
In contrast, Hugh Hemmings made the most of some nicely understated lines as Algernon’s butler, Lane, and Simon Druce fulfilled a similar rôle as Merriman. The deadpan, however, was no province of Rosemary Mose [Miss Prism], who reduced herself thrillingly to putty in the ardent hands of Canon Chasuble. Linda Mostyn’s parlour maid completed the cast.
Review #2: The Importance of Being Earnest
Publication: Brighton Argus
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Barrie Jerram
Text Header: “Wilde things”
Oscar Wilde’s comedy of manners demands a high standard of direction and acting. Thankfully, this production achieved both.
Performances of this play are often judged by the portrayal of Lady Bracknell, therefore special mention must be made to Olive Smith who, in this rôle, dismissed all memories of Edith Evans’ definitive performance. Instead, Smith gave us her own creation with a tinge of Penelope Keith and a hint of Anne Robinson.
She was well supported by Claire Wiggins, as her daughter, whose portrayal of a lively, young girl hinted at the woman she would become. This was an aspect I had not found in previous productions.
The lively pace of the play was well maintained, with the humour from Wilde’s witty and cynical lines being fully realised.
Review #3: The Importance of Being Earnest
Publication: Words & Music
Publication Data: Unknown
Reviewer: Gordon Bull
I wonderer how WTC would approach this much-loved and well-worn Wilde comedy. We were treated to three splendid sets and well-pointed lines, so that not a trick was lost, not a nuance or double-entendre missed.
Olive smith as Lady Bracknell once more gave a commanding performance, maintaining her imperious stance and voice faultlessly. Under her spell Gwendolen [Claire Wiggins] could not fail to be ill-at-ease, and Philip Balding as John Worthington could only quail but not be beaten. Kevin Isaac as Algernon was the perfect Bunburying bounder who, with Balding, made certain that diction was perfectly clear and no bon mot lost.
With memories of Margaret Rutherford ever-present, Rosemary Mose trembled effectively as Miss Prism and likewise the lofty Canon Chasuble comically dithered while effecting his nervous suit. Hugh Hemmings as the indispensable Butler handled the part with aplomb. Walk-on parts were capably taken by Linda Mostyn and Simon Druce.
A great evening’s unsurpassable entertainment and fun from this long-established company.
Review #4: The Importance of Being Earnest
Publication: Wick Newsletter
Publication Data: May 2002
Reviewer: Tony Muzall
When a play is as popular and oft performed as this one it is far too easy to make comparison between productions and the various characterisations. Most people would recognise several quotations from it even if not familiar with the play itself. I was more interested in what Wilde still has to say to a modern audience through focusing upon the performance I saw on the Friday evening. Would I see a fresh interpretation or a production that tried to set the piece as a period comedy? I saw aspects of both in this version.
The play was written over 100 years ago and has proved popular within each decade – striking chords with audiences of each generation. It was good to see that Wilde’s wit has not lost its edge during that period. With such a classic, however come traps into which actors and directors may unwittingly fall and sometimes it is difficult to find a way to avoid them all. I felt this production avoided many but fell into some.
The minimalist sets, in colours that gave the impression of space, produced a lightness that was refreshing and meant the attention was focused toward the interaction of characters on stage rather than the trappings of the Victorian era. The [not credited] piano playing succeeded in raising the first laugh of the evening and setting the mood. From where I sat though, it was not immediately evident that the piano was supposed to be coming from offstage left – a trick of acoustics perhaps. [web ed: Margaret Ockenden advises ‘the pianist requested not to be named’]
Margaret had assembled a cast comprising several of Wick’s finest and all gave strong performances. Diction was clear and precise – yet there were times when this resulted in a slightly stilted delivery of lines and linear pace and pitch, detracting from the flow and lightness of the production and the humour within it. Audiences can be fickle about how they choose to respond and maybe Friday’s audience caught the cast unawares – but several times laughs were ‘walked over’ during Act 1. By the second act the cast had judged the audience and laughter was allowed to run its course.
The two most striking performances of the evening, for me, came from Candice Gregory as Cecily and Philip Balding as John. Candice brought a knowing naivety to the part – interacting well with others on stage. Both managed to create characters with utter sincerity, subtlety and belief. Their dialogue flowed naturally. This only faltered on the closing line of the play – which may have worked better had the same subtlety been applied to it and the audience left to work out the intended pun.
Possibly the hardest character to portray in a fresh way is that of Lady Bracknell [with the shadows of many great actresses looming over her]. Olive Smith certainly tried and was suitably domineering. Her positioning on stage [nearly always central and seated on a preset chair] and her lack of interaction with the other cast members [much dialogue being delivered directly to the audience] was, however, a little disappointing. She also used a high register in her voice and some odd phrasing of lines.
Claire Wiggins [Gwendolen] and Kevin Isaac [Algernon] gave controlled performances. This is where the diction seemed to work against the character portrayals. Gwendolen seemed a little cool and calculating to me [not helped by the rather severe green Act ll costume] – but then she probably had good tutorship from Lady Bracknell!! I would have preferred a lighter characterisation with more inference to her darker nature evident within her scenes with Cecily. Kevin’s Algernon was a little less flippant that I would have preferred. David Goodger and Rosemary Mose provided an excellent visual aspect to the humour of the play and worked well together. Hugh Hemmings, Simon Druce and Linda Mostyn rounded off the cast well as the servants – each knowing their station and not rising above it.
Margaret Ockenden’s control as director was clear throughout the production and I enjoyed the symmetry she often created within the piece as a composite whole. More static scenes could have, perhaps, been lifted a little more by the characters expressing latent emotions through facial expression or gesture – but overall an enjoyable evening.
I await the imminent release of the new film version to see how that has been handled. Interesting coincidence – Philip Balding was our Darcy in Pride and Prejudice and Colin Firth in the most recent TV production. Philip Balding was our John Worthing in Earnest. Guess who takes that rôle in the new film!