REVIEW: The Importance of Being Earnest at Cambridge Arts Theatre

David Suchet as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest

David Suchet as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest - Credit: Archant

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde starring David Suchet as Lady Bracknell at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, May 23. Review by ANGELA SINGER.

Lady Bracknell is a caricature, so why not have her played by a man. It’s a challenge because ever since Dame Edith Evans declared “a handbag!” which such vigorous disdain in 1940, any one else playing that part has been faced with the equivalent to the “to be or not to be” speech in Hamlet.

David Suchet’s Bracknell is stupendous. He plays the moments before and after the line and gets twice the laughs. His “found” will now be as memorable as the Dame’s bag. His movement, his rubber face and his comic timing are immaculate, going from bombastic to wheedling, even flirtatious. The theatre was warm with love and appreciation. His sweeping presence gives the character depth and even poignancy.

Director Adrian Noble gives us an ensemble production. At last we see a Gwendolen and a Cecily that two men really would want to change their names for. Emily Barber and Imogen Doel give us the young women as Wilde surely meant them to be: utterly different, full of character and each with impeccable comic delivery. Wilde’s wit is treasured here. They have unfolded the characters from the script and brought them to life.

Emily Barber’s Gwendolen has exquisite deportment and delivery. The shapes she makes are beautiful. Her performance is flawless. Imogen Doel’s spirited and captivating Cecily has wonderful demeanours, this girl is her own creation. She imbues the character with a delicious humour. Her characterisation is so good that she has defined the role. It will be difficult for others to follow because hers is the Cecily we will remember.

Wilde’s satire on love, engagement and marriage has both Gwendolen and Cecily besotted with an illusion. Their firm intent, even before they have met him, is that they will marry a man called Ernest. Each imagines that she is indeed engaged to an Ernest, at one point the very same Ernest, when actually neither of them is because each of their suitors is pretending to be someone else.

The two beaux: Michael Benz as John Worthing and Philip Cumbus as Algernon Moncrieff, develop their characters through the play to complement those of their beloveds. Surely this is what Wilde intended. Delightfully, Benz’s rather proper Worthing and Cumbus’s rogue Moncrieff are just the type of chaps that Barber’s Gwendolen and Doel’s Cecily would have respectively gone for. Therein lies the fun.

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Michele Dotrice’s governess and Richard O’Callaghan’s Rev Canon Chasuble are another gorgeous pair. Dotrice’s Prism is the very sort of person who would confuse her cherished manuscript with a baby and leave the wrong one in left luggage. What author wouldn’t?

This vibrant, powerful, rip-roaring production unfolds for us the genius of Wilde’s play, a stirring, fast-paced, delightful, affectionate satire on manners and pretensions alive with laughter. An invigorating and inspirational production. Beyond superb. This is why we go to the theatre.