Even though poor weather meant that Magdalen’s annual garden play took place in their auditorium, rather than the garden itself, The Importance of Being Earnest sparkled with light-hearted wit and a real sense of fun.
Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy of manners was first performed in 1895, but Edward McBarnet’s production manages to grab a modern audience while losing none of its charm.
The small cast of characters find themselves thrown into increasingly absurd situations as mistaken identity, social expectations and multiple declarations of love begin to take their toll. Of course, it all ends happily.
With much of the comedy coming through dialogue, often between just a couple of characters, this play has the potential to drag, but the cast manage to maintain a quick, engaging pace throughout. In particular, the afternoon tea scenes, first between Gwendoline and Cecily and later between John and Algernon, were brilliantly done and extremely funny. College plays can suffer from difficulty in securing good actors, but main cast of The Importance of Being Earnest were uniformly talented.
A special comic mention, however, has to go to Rosa Garland, who shines as the imperious Lady Bracknell. Right from her first appearance on stage, Garland had the audience in the palm of her hand, playing the character as a gorgon of a woman who sweeps aside the foppish younger characters.
As already mentioned, the weather unfortunately meant that the play was moved into Magdalen Auditorium rather than taking place in the garden. However, the sets and staging translated well, and the addition of drawing-room piano music played live as the audience entered to take their seats was a nice touch of scene setting.
For the quintessential summer garden play, you couldn’t do much better than The Importance of Being Earnest. This is a charming, witty production, and, even if the weather fails to hold, makes for a lovely evening.