London Culture | The Importance of Being Earnest Theatre Review

The Importance of Being Earnest Theatre Review, Vaudeville Theatre: a dynamic production without a standout performance from Sophie Thompson.

Please note: I was given tickets to ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

At the end of May, my Dad took my Mum and me to see An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville Theatre. We had a wonderful evening, and I enjoyed the production of the play so much that I even interviewed one of the actors, Faith Omole, on Tea & Tattle Podcast (you can listen to the interview here).

I was delighted, then, to be offered tickets to review The Importance of Being Earnest, the latest Oscar Wilde play to be staged at the Vaudeville Theatre, as part of the Dominic Dromgoole and Classic Spring Oscar Wilde seasonThe Importance of Being Earnest is my favourite Wilde play, so I was particularly looking forward to seeing it live, and I took my Mum along to watch it with me.

The Importance of Being Earnest Theatre Review, Vaudeville Theatre: a dynamic production without a standout performance from Sophie Thompson.Fehinti Balogun as Algernon Moncrieff. Image source.

As soon as the curtain went up, I realised that Michel Fentiman’s staging of the play was far from a conventional interpretation. In the opening scene, Algernon Moncrieff (played by Fehinti Balogun) is locked in a close embrace with a young man who rapidly slinks off into the wings, and the stage is dominated by a centrally hung painting depicting two naked men entwined on the floor.

Unlike Wilde’s unrivalled satirical wit, subtlety is not a notable feature of this production. Algernon is overtly bisexual, even kissing his manservant, Lane, on the lips, and the fulfilment of the physical appetites seems to be very much on everyone’s mind: cucumber sandwiches and crumpets are stuffed into mouths; Gwendoline (Pippa Nixon) all but straddles the grand piano when encouraging Jack (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd) to propose; and Cecily (Fiona Button) shares a cigarette and flirtatious glances with a gardener that looks like he wandered in from a production of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

The Importance of Being Earnest Theatre Review, Vaudeville Theatre: a dynamic production without a standout performance from Sophie Thompson.Sophie Thompson as Lady Bracknell. Image source.

It must be a challenge to bring a fresh direction to such a classic play, but I did feel that this ‘sexing up’ of the production was a little too heavy-handed, and occasionally tipped into farce rather than satire.  Despite these reservations, however, I still thoroughly enjoyed the play. It’s hard not to have a wonderful time when seeing something written by Oscar Wilde, and The Importance of Being Earnest is Wilde at his very best.

Sophie Thompson as Lady Bracknell was completely marvellous, and Fehinti Balogun and Jacob Fortune-Lloyd brought a playfulness to their respective roles that added a youthful energy to the production. I’d recently admired Fiona Button’s acting in BBC’s The Split, so it was fun to see her perform live, and she did not disappoint as an exuberant Cicely.

The Importance of Being Earnest Theatre Review, Vaudeville Theatre: a dynamic production without a standout performance from Sophie Thompson.The Importance of Being Earnest. Image source.

For me, there were two standout scenes in this production: the first when Jacob Fortune-Lloyd as John Worthing explains the circumstances surrounding his birth and being found in a handbag in a cloakroom at Victoria Station.  Sophie Thompson’s deliverance of ‘in a handbag!’ is muttered faintly, but still conveys Lady Bracknell’s utter horror of the situation. My other favourite scene was the final denouement when John Worthing’s true parentage is revealed. By this point, the cast have achieved a wonderful degree of tension, and  – despite knowing the story well – I waited in eager anticipation for Miss Prism’s explanation of events.

I chuckled my way through the entire performance, and Mum and I agreed we’d had a brilliant evening. If you’re in the mood for an entertaining, lighthearted night out filled with sparkling wit, then I highly recommend adding The Importance of Being Earnest to your theatre list.

The Importance of Being Earnest is on until 20th October at the Vaudeville Theatre. Tickets may be booked here