When Lady Bracknell burst onstage, with the magnificent condescension of Connor Fox in a coral pink dress, the audience was ‘quite exploded’ like dear Bunbury – but with laughter. Teddy Hall Drama has gifted us a performance this December that is crowned by an admirable cast, dedicated to raising money for the LGBT rights charity Stonewall.
This is a production that delights in gleefully testing and conflating the boundaries of gender, potentially suggesting conformity to gender norms to be necessarily restrictive. Connor’s triumphant Lady Bracknell is the most vivid illustration of flouting traditional gender binaries. With a trilling tones and flamboyant gestures, Lady Bracknell at times teeters towards absolute caricature, yet just about manages to retain her position as a dignified and often frightful figure. The decision for Lady Bracknell’s to be a cross-dressing role is an interesting one, drawing closer attention to her role and complicity as the voice of the patriarchal establishment. At the same time, the Lady Bracknell of Teddy Hall is purely comic, and her absurd facial contortions at the baby-in-handbag news is simply too precious to miss.
Special mention must go to Algernon, that splendidly fantastical creation who is given full justice and more by Alex Gunn’s quicksilver acting skills (which do not exclude the impressive speed at which cucumber sandwiches can be devoured). Eminently convincing, Alex occupies the role of childish dandy with an easy vivacity that endears, even to the reluctant Jack (Selina Lynch) who excelled in displaying a whole spectrum of exasperation, from baffled to despairing, which he certainly needed when dealing with his capricious friend.
Such an exuberant first act naturally heightens the audience’s anticipation for the next. This, for a little while, falls sadly short. The initial conversation between Cecily and Miss Prism is somewhat deflated after the energetic impetuosity of Jack and Algernon. While the character of Miss Prism is perfectly justified in seeming dull, she disappoints in the lack of chemistry between herself and the Rev. Chasuble – though she might be partly forgiven in consideration of poor Chasubles’ near-absence of charm. Without the restrained yet deeply sentimental attraction between the unlikely pair, the audience loses the important contrast between this older couple and the passionate defiance of the young, and thus some of Wilde’s subtle social commentary on the cold and perhaps unnatural stringency of religious morality. This lack of chemistry does, however, make the sight of the good Reverend abruptly dropping down on one knee all the funnier at the end (albeit at the expense of being funny elsewhere). And Cecily, fittingly enough, becomes more mischievously complex with the arrival of Algernon, with whom she quickly establishes an enchantingly playful dynamic.
The possibly over-scrupulous observations above may be attributed to the marvelousness of the rest – aside from some issues with props all was well. The wonderful appeal of this performance arguably rests with the brilliant rapport between the members of the cast, and the directors (Amy Hemsworth and Dhea Bengardi). They did Wilde proud.