Review: The Importance of Being Earnest (Bard in the Botanics)
Updated: Aug 11, 2023
An Earnest of very little Importance
What do you do with a classic that has a lot to say for itself? It is often said that Shakespeare’s longevity can be attributed to the flexibility of his work; its ability to be poetic and still open to reinvention. Not so with Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. It is very rooted in its own time, its own sense of humour, to the extent that applying any particular lens would not feel like reinvention, just a change in setting and aesthetic. Nevertheless, since it is such an enduring comedy it comes built-in with an audience who are prepared to love it so long as the foibles of its plot and the madness of its characters are done justice.
Photo Credit: Tom Duncan
And James Boal is committed to doing just that as Algernon. He is quick, foolish, and self-centred, and Éime Quinn is his perfect match as Cecily. I could gladly watch them spout senseless wit at each other for hours. Next to him, Stephen Arden’s Jack seems like a stiff killjoy. Even if Jack as a character is not as full of nonsense as Algernon, Arden’s performance is still surprisingly short on whimsy. Moreover, he struggles to muster much chemistry with Clair Macallister’s Gwendolen, whose forceful take on the character seems much more at home during her sour and spiteful exchanges with Cecily than when she is flirting with Jack.
But it is Alan Steele who is pitched as the star for his performance as Lady Bracknell, and certainly when he makes his entrance dressed in an offensive combination of colours and patterns the audience all titter in anticipation. But although he is comedically lizard-like while interrogating Jack, he does not find many moments to make the character his own. In the end, his performance feels as put-on as the purple tights and fuchsia pink lipstick.
Photo Credit: Tom Duncan
Indeed, Steele’s performance is symptomatic of the larger problem with Bard in the Botanics’ Earnest. Director Gordon Barr’s modern-dress vision for this production does not extend beyond the dress. Heather Grace Currie’s design is wonderous but shallow; everything from the set to the costumes seems to have been pulled straight from a trendy gin advert. But aside from its visual aesthetic, Barr fails to make this production stand out. By the end it feels plodding, and as the sun goes down you find yourself itching for the loose threads to be tied up, unintrigued about what hijinks might happen in the meantime.
Letting a play speak for itself is one thing, but without a director making it their own, however subtly, audiences are as well off buying a printed copy of the play rather than a ticket to the performance. But even if the production doesn’t make enough of an impression on its own then the charming settings, eye-catching design and some stand-out performances from Boal and Quinn will leave fans of Wilde’s classic satisfied. Three stars.
Whispers from the Crowd: "It was really good fun, but lacked a little bit of pace." "I'm happy to see so many people enjoying theatre under the open sky." "Yes and it was great to see them expanding beyond Shakespeare."
The Importance of Being Earnest will play at Bard in the Botanics until July 29th