First Night Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

This self-proclaimed ramshackle production of the legendary Wilde farce hardly needed any introduction. Which was a lucky break, since had I not picked through this week’s OUDS newsletter with a fine-toothed comb, I might never have known that The Importance of Being Earnest was even on. Yet the promise of a sunny afternoon, a dose of Wilde and lashings of Pimm’s were more than enough to drag me and seemingly every English student in Oxford down to St Benet’s Gardens for this garden play.

The setting is stunning, set behind the college’s Georgian premises in their intimate garden, which harboured an appropriate set of deckchairs and a garden table set for tea. My initial trepidations following the first scene, that I might be in for something unprepared and somewhat apathetic, were quelled after about ten minutes when the entrance of Jack Lambert as a cross-dressing, hallooing and utterly droll Lady Bracknell made the intentions of this production quite clear.

The finely pointed upper class accents adopted by the cast could have been used to create a more profound production of the play, but it worked superbly with a commitment instead to light-heartedness, hilarity and buffoonery, as well as moments of genuine off-script amusement among the cast which engendered a sense of warm familiarity.

Bobby Leigh-Pemberton was excellent as John Worthing, working well against Daniel Draper, as a superb Algernon Moncrieff. They could have driven the comedy further by milking the parallelism between the two Earnests a little more, and I never found myself wholly convinced by the relationship between John Worthing and Gwendolen Fairfax, but the pace was kept up through the comedy of the continual failure of Worthing to cover up his deception, and the humour of the unlikely relationship between Algernon and Gwendolen Fairfax, who had all the required sweetness from Iona McLaren.

All in all, The Importance of Being Earnest was characterised by a light hearted yet strong performance, a production both unswervingly comical and altogether enjoyable.