By April Howard
The Importance of Being Earnest is one of those plays that never fails to charm. Wilde’s wit and charisma mean that his infamous play is often adored by audiences. It is therefore easy for new productions to trudge along safely and obediently in the footsteps of their predecessors and hence become forgettable. FHTC’s performance, in the most part, does not.
This is one of those plays that never fails to charm
I think what drives this production is the undeniable talent of its cast. Luke Skinner and Ben Smart dazzle as the two aristocratic leads, embodying, with ease, the whimsical humour of the play. The dynamic between them is wonderful. Skinner’s portrayal of the flamboyant and charming Algernon is mostly superb, only a few moments of emotional climax seem a little misplaced and forced (given the generally laidback charisma of his character).
That being said, Skinner is a delightful choice for the role and clearly a very talented actor. Smart, also, is a terrific choice as Jack, delivering all of his most comic lines perfectly. Similarly, Ella Blaxill glides elegantly into her role as Gwendolyn. In fact, I have rarely seen someone so well-suited for their role as Blaxill is for hers. Blaxill delivers a Gwendolyn that seems to be Wilde’s imagination made manifest: a woman of wit, poise, passion, determination and charm.
Ruth Louis is a magnificent Lady Bracknell, capturing the formidable older lady with spotless accuracy. Lowri Mathias gives a charming performance as Cecily. Mathias embodies the naïve yet intelligent young Cecily very naturally. Anne-Marie Garrett is an excellent fit for Miss Prism, and clearly is a talented actress. Charlie Howe has moments of excellence as Reverend Chasuble, yet I sense his talent is not brought to full fruition here.
Mulcahey shines through as a bright beacon of talent
The cast member who stands out to me the most, however, is Keir Mulcahey. Mulcahey, in his two roles as Lane and another unnamed servant, has perhaps the fewest lines. Nonetheless, he shines through as a bright beacon of talent. As soon as he enters the stage, the audience is captivated by his humorous use of physicality, improvisation and nuance. Stanislavski’s famous declaration that “there are no small parts, only small actors” finds it mark here in Mulcahey’s ability to deliver brilliance in roles designed to be but a background.
Director Alice Bridge has injected the play with the energy it deserves. The spacing and flow of the piece provides the play with a necessary abundance of vivacity. Bridge’s direction clearly gives the play the seamless quality that makes this a truly wonderful production. Bridge maintains the authentic charm of the play through using its Victorian setting. Monica Jones’ costuming is a superior exercise in the art, imitating the mood and the characters superbly.
The entire feeling of the production is one that relishes in Wildean irony
Also, Bridge, through exaggerating the propriety that we so often assign to the Victorians and at some times having actors break out of these restrictions even in the smallest ways, such as Algernon screaming about tea cake or Gwendolyn leaning onto the sofa in a swoon of adoration, reminds us that this play is, at heart, a satire of a society and a social class that Wilde found so easily mockable. Indeed, the entire feeling of the production is one that relishes in Wildean irony and delights in the farcical comedy that makes Wilde such a brilliant playwright.
I congratulate Alison Bridge, Nicole Balta, Niamh Hanns and Acacia To, as directors and producers respectively, for bringing this production to life in such a lively and captivating way. The technical features of the play, such as the lighting and sound effects, worked wonderfully to complement the performance and so credit must also be given to Matt Newhall (tech director) and Callisto Musyck (assistant tech director).
While not an overly daring production, it is one that preserves the brilliance of the writing, has the audience hooked in its exhibition of raw talent and demonstrates a brilliant sense of humour and heart. I would recommend that if you have the chance to go see this production, you do. You will be in for an evening of laughter, surprise and whimsical joy.
Image by FHTC