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  • Writer's pictureSTEVE COOKE AATA

The Importance of Being Earnest – by Oscar Wilde, at the Royal Exchange Theatre is an excellent production, highly enjoyable and with lots of very funny moments

Review by Seamus Kelly

The Royal Exchange Theatre is an excellent venue to stage a play in the round and this modern version of the classic play be Oscar Wilde is no exception.

This production, directed by Josh Roche, takes a play from 1895 and places it in a modern setting with plenty of modern references but all the while skilfully reflecting the nature of the original work. Perfect examples of this are the way Cecily (Rumi Sutton) poses for selfies, showing how much she values appearance over everything else, and uses her mobile phone to record her diary entries. This really is an excellent production, highly enjoyable and with lots of very funny moments.

Jack Worthing (Robin Morrissey) is the main protagonist, a country gent and pillar of the community who has created an imaginary brother called Earnest, who is the black sheep who gets into scrapes and needs Jack to help him. In reality Earnest is simply an excuse to enable Jack to leave his country home and head to London where, calling himself Earnest, he can behave as he likes, and in ways that he could not as Jack.

Falling in love with Gwendolen (Phoebe Pryce), the cousin of his friend Algernon (Parth Thackeray), in London, whilst using the name Earnest is where the complications begin. Gwendolen returns his affections but reveals that the name Earnest is absolutely important to her in being able to love and completely trust him. Gwendolen accepts the marriage proposal from Jack (using the name Earnest).

Gwendonlen’s mother, Lady Bracknell (Abigail Cruttenden), will not agree to the engagement and from that point onwards the complications and twists build on each other until the final resolution at the end of the play when Jack, having discovered his real origins, realises “the importance of being Earnest”.

The use of a modern setting is very effective and makes the story easier to understand for a modern audience almost 130 years after the play was first performed.

The staging was a very definite move away from the traditional Victorian setting is simple with chairs, sofas and tables to represent what would traditionally be the drawing room, and the garden represented by fluffy imitation hedges in a shade known as Millennial Pink. The pink garden had been created deliberately, by designer Eleanor Bull, to be frivolous and silly and also link to the pink plastic flowers popping up in coffee shops now.

The whole cast were excellent and work together beautifully. There were no weak performances, and the characterisations, expression and comic timing were all just right.

If I were to pick out a couple of standout performances they would be from Abigail Cruttenden as Lady Bracknell, for her expression and completely believable character, and James Quinn playing the butler Lane and gardener Merriman, with absolutely excellent comedic expression and timing.

The use of modern props including a modern, and suitably noisy coffee machine, and letter a leaf blower, was very clever and added a layer of humour specifically for a modern audience.

There were many laughs throughout the performance and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the show, acknowledging the actors with a rousing standing ovation.

This really is a very funny and accessible modern production of Wilde’s classic play and I would highly recommend it whether or not you are familiar with this or other of Wilde’s works.

The production runs until 20th July.

Tickets can be booked through 

There are Sensory Adapted, Captioned, Audio Described and British Sign Language performances – dates and detail of the Royal Exchange Theatre website.

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