Friday, 20 February 2015

The Importance of being Earnest, Canberra Rep, Theatre 3

Wilde's purest comedy is a marvel of a play, with jokes that sound just as fresh the twentieth time you hear them and a plot that keeps momentum all the way to the final curtain. Canberra Rep's production is quite a creditable effort - no, it isn't perfect, but there's some great stuff in here that's worth watching.

Let's start with Miles Thompson's Algernon, as he kicks off the action. Thoroughly charming, devious, rakish, impish and, eventually, when all else fails, sincerely romantic, he hits his bon-mots perfectly into the audience with a playful charm. John Brennan's Jack starts with the sincerity, and plays a largely straight-bat (with one delightful moment in Act three where he breaks his cool hilariously) - if he's a little stiff, that's largely the character at work - Jack has a bit of a stick up his butt, and Brennan makes sure it's not too irritating. Karen Vickery's Lady Bracknell gives the snobbish gorgon full reign and dominates whenever she's on-stage to delightful effect. Kayleih Brewster's Gwendolen has a nicely blase charm to her, with a slight sense that Gwendolen is intensely appreciative of her own good looks. Jordan Best's Miss Prism is hysterically funny, full of censorious worry and only-very-slightly-concealed-desperate passions. Jessica Symonds' Cecily has a bouncy youthful charm and confidence that brings great dividends as she leads Algernon through her diary. Mark Bunnett's Chasuble has the proper clerical bearing and is delightfully ridiculous. And Michael Miller's eyebrows do a lot of very fine work as Merriman as he is increasingly astonished by the odd behaviours around him.

Michael Sparks' set design has a nicely classical style, although some of the decorations are not necessarily applied as well as they might be (in particular, there's a mishung painting in act three), and the scene change between act two and act three is mishandled (it's a combination of a longish delay before the lights come up at the end of act one, a rather dull Gilbert and Sullivan ballad being used to manage the transition (there are much brighter songs used elsewhere in the pre-show and intermission, and they may work better to cover the gap) as well as the design itself) - framing the piece with an old-style curtain and footlights. Heather Spong's costumes capture a nice sense of period and add to the delighfully excessive artificiality of the proceedings.

This isn't a perfect production - there are one or two points where the pace meanders a little - but it's still a delightful parfait of an evening and a good launch into 2015 for Rep.

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