Tag Archives: oscar wilde

Pictures of Dorian Gray – C (Jermyn Street Theatre)

Fresh from a run at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, this reworking of Oscar Wilde’s classic novel (one of four permutations using the same cast of four) comes to London with a female Dorian.

Helen Reuben as Dorian Gray. Photo credit Samuel Tsylor

Helen Reuben as Dorian Gray. Photo credit Samuel Taylor

While this works well with the dominant relationship between the beautiful and unspoiled Miss Gray and the dissolate Sir Henry, it doesn’t quite come off in the section concerning Sibyl Vane, the teenage actress Dorian promises to marry and then callously casts off.

Lesbian relationships were problematic at the time (see Anne Lister as one example, in the current TV series Gentleman Jack) and would have caused social ostracism, but there could have been no legal contract of matrimony, and Gray’s nickname of ‘Prince Charming’ makes little sense when she is a woman.

Set (portrait) designed by William Reynolds

Set (portrait) designed by William Reynolds

Basil Hallward’s infatuation with his artistic muse, though, is clearly indicated and the use of sound and light (floating microphones that echo and distort, bulbs that flicker and illuminate) is well done, as is the minimal set – two mirrors, one depicting the infamous painting which is represented by illuminated water, more red as the years progress; one depicting reality, with one moment where Dorian sees through her reflection right into her soul.

Wilde’s seminal queer text stands up to redefinition, and in turning Adrian Singleton to Adriana and Alan Campbell to Allie, it puts the female gaze centre stage. It may be gruesome to think of a young man taking a life of debauchery, but a young lady, with all her refinements and natural delicacy (in 19th century tradition) feels much worse.

I found all four performances (Richard Keighley’s Henry, Helen Reuben’s Dorian, Augustina Seymour’s Sibyl, Stanton Wright’s Basil) very strong, and although the ghostly narrative of unconnected words from characters on the fringes of the scene felt odd at first, they gained power as the piece progressed.

Other combinations in the quartet of plays allow Keightley and Seymour, and Reuben and Wright, to swap roles. Picture B, with a female Henry and male Sybil, sounds particularly intriguing, although really the play (or prose) is the thing.


The Importance of Being Earnest (Tabard Theatre)

Oscar Wilde’s most celebrated play comes to the tiny Tabard Theatre in Turnham Green, and it is a lot of fun as ever.

Kirsty Jackson and Samuel Oakes

Kirsty Jackson and Samuel Oakes

This is a shortened version (no “cake” for Gwendolen) with some more modern modifications (the “cab” rather than the “carriage”), and rather more giggling and physical scrapping than you’ll have seen in previous versions. I have to point out, that more than one of the cast stumble over some of those iconic lines, which is a shame.

The company of The Importance of Being Earnest

The company of The Importance of Being Earnest

To bring something fresh and new to Wilde means to take risks with the material – it doesn’t have to mean casting David Suchet as Lady Bracknell, but it should bring something different to the table, and adding a throwaway line after the iconic closer isn’t necessarily the way.

As Lady B, Non Vaughan-Thomas definitely channels the spirit of Edith Evans from the classic film version of Earnest, but with additional, and hilarious, face-pulling.

Tim Gibson. Melissa Knighton and Non Vaughan-Thomas

Tim Gibson. Melissa Knighton and Non Vaughan-Thomas

With a wide-eyed Gwendolen (Melissa Knighton, pleasingly haughty), and a juvenile giggler of an Algernon (Samuel Oakes), this version sometimes wanders into the sphere of farce, but Wilde’s clever wit always pulls it back.

As Jack, Tim Gibson mugs well but misses the stoic seriousness of the country gentleman, but Kirsty Jackson’s annoyingly imaginative and twittery Cecily is a delight.

Paul Foulds (in several small parts, laconic servants and officials), Dean Harris (as Chasuble) and Jo Ashe (as a Prism quivering with piety) round out the cast in a production directed by David Phipps-Davis and designed by Leah Sams.

Jo Ashe and Kirsty Jackson

Jo Ashe and Kirsty Jackson

The Importance of Being Earnest runs at this quirky and eccentric theatre until 23 June. Photos by Andreas Grieger.

The Importance of Being Earnest (Vaudeville Theatre)

This is the version of Wilde’s play which is being publicised heavily because of the casting of David Suchet as Lady Bracknell, and if this feels like stunt casting (it isn’t really, he isn’t the first man to put on the dress and give the immortal handbag line), I’m pleased to say it has paid off.

A sparking comedy of manners, this production by Adrian Noble, former RSC artistic director, sizzles with energy and benefits from an excellent pair of performances from newcomer Emily Barber as Gwendolyn and the hilarious mugger Imogen Doel as Cecily.

Playing as broadly as the script allows, their garden scene is a hoot and Barber’s reaction to the marriage proposal in Act One is hugely entertaining.  Doel’s Cecily is a fiery child not to be trifled with, and her clumsy flirting is seriously scary!

As the two gentlemen who use deceit to enable themselves to have good times, Michael Benz as Jack and Philip Cumbus (last seen in the Trafalgar Studio Richard III as Richmond) as Algy are thoroughly modern chaps who fight over muffins and become lovelorn at the slightest opportunity.

Michele Dotrice and Richard O’Callagan are a fine Prism and Chasuble, a veritable comedy team fairly quivering with unsuppressed attraction.  In their hands the final reconciliation ‘at last’ is believeable, and her twittering delight at the prospect of a stroll is hilarious.

This leaves us with Suchet’s Lady B.  His is a frightful caricature, with exaggerated expressions and reactions which liven up her first interrogation of Jack in particular, with the slow opening of the black book, the shudder of distate about railway stations, and the look of distain she gives her daughter’s intended suitor.  It’s a performance which is just a step back from the pantomime dame, but it richly mines the comic potential of this greatest of female characterisations.

In Act Three his return bodes a change from the ‘gorgon’ to something softer, as this Aunt Augusta has a past of poverty and a marriage based on money, not love, and there may be just a little bit of regret when all ends happily without a thought for her, an essentially nouveau riche vulgar harridan whose exaggeration comes out of insecurity.

It’s an interesting take on the story in a production which is not perfect, but which is effortlessly entertaining, from David Killick’s snipey Lane through to Brendan Hooper’s Merriman (which an air of resignation whether ordering a dog cart or serving cake at tea).

Importance of Being Earnest (Richmond Theatre), review

Lucy Bailey’s re-imagining of Oscar Wilde’s classic play comes to Richmond Theatre direct from the West End and a short tour which has stopped at Bath, Brighton, Aylesbury, and finally comes to a stop at Birmingham next week.  Reviews have not been kind to the ‘Bunbury Players’ who have put on this show.

But just a moment – let’s take a step back.  The conceit of this production is that it is now a play within a play – an ageing group of amateur players putting on a dress rehearsal of their long-running version of the ‘Importance’ in the sitting room of George (who plays the roles of Lane and Merriman), and Lavinia (Lady Bracknell).  So you get funny, but rather unnecessary bookending segments written by Simon Brett

The actors are so much older than those usually playing the parts, they practically creak along – Martin Jarvis at 72 plays Jack Worthing, Nigel Havers, ten years younger, is Algernon Moncrieff.  Cherie Lunghi as Gwendolen and Christina Kavanagh as Cecily are certainly mature, while at 81, Sian Phillips has a last hurrah as emoting the ‘handbag’ line.  I only mention the ages because they play up to them – it doesn’t actually matter once the play proper gets going.

Some reviews have stated that if you love Wilde’s play, you will hate this, but not so.  I found it an affectionate spoof which is genuinely funny, and which does not damage the fabric of the play that much – it doesn’t matter that Gwendolen’s costume splits and needs to be sewn by the costume lady during the scene, or that cucumber sandwiches arrive just in time for Lane’s ‘not even for ready money’ line.  Giggles do come from Havers’ Algy having to change out of trainers into slippers mid-speech, or his ingratiating winks at the audience.

I especially liked the interplay between Lunghi and Kavanagh in the garden scene, which makes this scene sharp and fresh, while Rosalind Ayres is fun as Miss Prism, all twitches and wide-eyed mock innocence, and Niall Buggy as the drunken actor who suddenly morphs into the clearly enunciating vicar is fine.  Patrick Godfrey as George/Lane may be more interested in the test match scores but those of us who remember the 2002 film know he can play the dual manservant roles standing on his head.  Here he just has fun.

The programme, too, entertains, with a spoof set of biographies and adverts.  Delightful.

I’d have a laugh watching the Bunbury Players do this play, were they real, but as they are not, I enjoyed watching this group of veterans gently joshing Wilde’s characters into sharp relief.  I would not have let the play go on beyond Wilde’s famous final line, though.

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