Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST • Oxford Playhouse [tour] • 2005

Oxford Playhouse [Wikipedia]

Oxford Playhouse [Wikipedia]

Many years ago, I listened to a famous conductor talking on the radio about the problem of including well-known pieces in concert programmes. “To many in the audience,” he said, “a piece like Grieg’s Piano Concerto is a cliché. But we must never forget that, for many others, they are hearing it for the very first time.”

The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the best-known and best-loved plays in the canon. In fact, how many of us can’t recite most of the best lines along with the characters? Answer: a group of people in the row behind me who greeted each aphorism and each elegant witticism with surprised delight. And they weren’t the only ones in the audience. You could feel the warmth, the constant undercurrent of pleasure, the laughter ready to bubble from our lips.

And that is the strength of this production: it lets the play speak for itself, and doesn’t seek to patronise us. It’s delightfully free from directorial ‘concepts’ – in fact, the nearest it gets to the non-conventional is Mark Bailey’s extremely witty set.

Director Erica Whyman draws convincing performances out of all her actors — with one exception. But that exception can hardly be blamed. Maggie Steed makes a brave attempt to escape from The Curse of Edith Evans, and gives us a Lady Bracknell who is really quite endearing — even, at times, vulnerable. But she doesn’t live up to her description as ‘Gorgon’ and ‘monster’. And she certainly doesn’t strike fear into the hearts of all around her. For an actress, it’s an impossible situation to be in. Deliver the line “A handbag?” in that way, and you’ll be accused of a lack of imagination — even though the newcomers will fall about laughing, and most of the rest will revel in the familiarity of an old friend. Try to find a new way to deliver it, and you’re on a hiding to nothing. I wonder anyone ever accepts the part at all… Having said that, anyone who doesn’t know the Edith Evans version will be more than satisfied with Maggie Steed’s performance. (Note to Miss Steed: this is praising with faint praise, not damning…)

The two young men at the centre of the action are nicely delineated (though the early scenes could do with a little tightening up of cues). Dominic Rowan gives us a lounge-lizard Algernon who sums up the boredom of the fin de siècle man about town. Guy Lankester’s Jack Worthing strives to maintain a sense of responsibility in the face of his friend’s fecklessness, while being shamelessly manipulated by his intended, Gwendolen Fairfax — a spirited performance by Sally Phillips. In fact, Miss Phillips’s performance shows all the hallmarks of a generous actor. In the famous ‘taking tea’ scene, she is content to play the anchor to Amanda Hale’s butterfly Cecily, without losing anything of Gwendolen’s wordly-wise superiority.

It is newcomer Amanda Hale, however, fresh from RADA, who in many ways steals the show. Whether attempting to play an innocent teenage girl’s notion of how a vamp would behave, or drawing her Wicked Uncle Earnest into her own fantasy world, or waging war against her Deadly Rival Gwendolen, she is completely unselfconscious, continually inventive and constantly funny. (A little OTT for a sheltered Victorian maiden, perhaps — but she’s got plenty of time in which to learn.)

Anna Calder-Marshall makes a convincingly dithery Miss Prism, hinting at Margaret Rutherford while making the part completely her own, and is suitably paired with Christopher Godwin’s batty Canon Chasuble who, when about to conduct a christening, finds himself dressed like an explorer wearing a Baby Doll nightie.

The cast is completed by Julian Bleach, who plays both manservants (Lane and Merriman) with a lugubrious gravitas.

In the past few years, I’ve become weary of classics seeking to be ‘relevant’, of directors inventing improbable ‘concepts’ to impress their friends in the business. This Importance is a welcome antidote — and it was obvious that the packed house on the night I was in would agree with me.

The Oxford Playhouse’s recent policy of mounting their own in-house productions has, so far, been spectacularly successful, with a series of first class shows to their credit. Long may it continue.

Catch this production if you can.

Peter Mottley © 2005

Originally published on R&V 25-08-05


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Improbability Archivist

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, Doctor Who,

WCH On This Day

Working Class History anniversaries every day


Yoga classes and aromatherapy products in Andalusia, Spain.

LOIS BRYAN Photography and Digital Art

History And Other Thoughts

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Secret Diary Of PorterGirl

The everyday adventures of the staff & students of Old College


Subject to change.

The Müscleheaded Blog

"Nothing Exceeds Like Superfluous Jejunity "

Women of History

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Jon Danzig's World

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

The pallet Junkie

Hand crafted furniture

Dreaming Reality

If Existence is a dream, let us dream perfection....


Exploring best practice and research in sexual violence. A loud voice in the fight against victim blaming. Written and Managed by Jessica Eaton, Doctoral Researcher in Forensic Psychology

Teagan's Books

Now available: "Murder at the Bijou - Three Ingredients I"

Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

The History Woman's Blog

Just another weblog

Art by Jess Miller

sculpture and artwork


by Jack Monroe, bestselling author of 'A Girl Called Jack'

surprise saffron

relishing in life's surprises, delighting in food, travel, art

Wish I Were Here

Journeys Through Place and Time

Doron Art

A journey into my world of Painting

Taylor Revert

An anything-and-everything blog from life's number one fan

Random Facts in History

History is complex, massive, and full of strange events and coincidences. Learn with me as I hunt those out and bring them into the light.

Life with an Illness

Sharing my chronic illness journey, while helping others. I spread awareness, love, and positivity along the way!♡

The poor side of life

Exposing the unfair treatment of jobseekers, the horrors of Universal Credit, unfair sanctions and heinous treatment of claimants at Ashton under Lyne Jobcentre.

Art by Vicky Paton

Canadian Abstract Artist

Politics and Insights

Public interest issues, policy, equality, human rights, social science and analysis


Supporting the rich amateur theatre scene on the Isle of Wight

Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography - Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.

Sarah Ditum

Writing, etc.

Jots from a Small Apt.

Largely @ Liberty

Rethinking Life

Art and the philosophy of life

Croatia, the War, and the Future

Ina Vukic - Croatia: people, politics, history, economy, transition from communism to democracy

lynz real cooking

lynz real life

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Tropical Affair

Observations of the illusion through the eyes of wonder...

The home of writer Barney Hoskyns' books, poems, photos and more.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

Left Handed Lottie

Drawing and painting on an ipad

Atelier 88

More than just rooms

%d bloggers like this: