Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. November 2010.
“I do hope something improbable isn’t about to happen” says Lady Bracknell as Oscar Wilde’s tale of missing babies and confused identities approaches its conclusion. And indeed, there is nothing improbable about the Lyceum’s latest production. It is exactly as any Wilde aficionado would expect: eloquent, observant, and ever so funny.
Key to this success is the perfect quick-fire, witty dialogue between the two central characters, John (Ben Deery) and Algernon (Will Featherstone). The audience are introduced to this Wildean double act through a discussion of their alternative personas, which proves to be crucial to the plot, but is delivered so quickly that you would be forgiven for missing bits. John likes to pretend to visit his wayward brother in town (crucially, both the imaginary brother and John’s town persona are named Earnest) whereas London boy Algernon runs off to the country to be at the side of his (also imaginary) invalid friend, Bunbury. John also announces that he plans to propose to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (Melody Grove), daughter of the fearsome Lady Bracknell (Alexandra Mathie). The problem is, Gwendolen thinks John is called Earnest and announces that she wouldn’t marry anyone with any other name. A few days later Algernon pays John a surprise visit, pretending to be the imaginary brother Earnest, and happens to fall in love with Cecily (Kirsty Mackay) – John’s young and conveniently beautiful ward – who has also always dreamt of marrying an Earnest. Got it?
Confusing and rather silly it may all be, but this production was absolutely fantastic. The set and costumes were simple and cleverly done: a high point came during the set change from town to country, when the butler is undressed and re-dressed in front of the audience – a quirky device done very well. The actors, of course, make the play and this was an exceptionally strong cast. Alexandra Mathie was particularly brilliant as the rather absurd but nonetheless terrifying Lady Bracknell (and I am pleased to say that “A handbag?!” was uttered impeccably). My only gripe was with the slightly awkward snatches of music in crucial moments, which felt rather distracting. All in all, definitely a production worth seeing if you like your drama fast-paced and ever so erudite.
Originally published in The Student.