New Era Players - The Importance of Being Earnest
7th to 10th September and 13th to 17th September 2016
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Importance of being a gorgon
A 'quiet and sweet' Lady Bracknell jars in an otherwise first-class production
New Era Players: The Importance of Being Earnest, at New Era Theatre, Wash Common, from September 7-10 and 13-17
First presented in the West End in 1895, how the audience in those days must have loved the fresh wit and comic lines of The Importance of Being Earnest. The play still inspires gales of laughter even today, although many people laugh in anticipation of the best known lines.
New Era's production was certainly new, had original touches and there were some sterling performances in the leading parts.
Alexander Greenwood-Forkin as Algernon and Sam Prentice as Jack produced believable characters that they developed throughout the action. Pippa Higgins and Emily Beck played Gwendolen and Cecily bringing out all the charm and, later, cattiness of those two young ladies impressively. Carol Hultmark as Miss Prism was suitably straightlaced and Peter Hendrikx made a fussy Rev Chasuble.
Merriman and Lane, the butlers, were played by Tom Buckingham, over-acting rather in the early scenes.
However, the decision to play Lady Bracknell as a quiet, sweet old lady was ill-advised. Janet Bennett worked hard to create a believable character but, sadly, it just didn't work. The whole point of the tension throughout, between the two young couples and the formidable Lady Bracknell, is that she is seen as a commanding presence with a voice that will shake walls.
Jack refers to her in the narrative as 'such a gorgon' and 'a monster'. If she doesn't deliver the brilliant Wilde lines with authority and conviction, it does not – will not – work. Many of the best lines here were lost or thrown away and the famous description of the contents of the 'handbag' – 'a three-volume novel of more than usually revolting sentimentality' – was completely mangled.
All of which was unfortunate, because in every other way this was a first-class production, extremely well acted and paced, with pauses used effectively and a very professional approach by everybody.
At one point all the lights went out plunging the theatre into darkness momentarily, but the two actors on stage carried on as though nothing had happened. Well done Pippa Higgins and Emily Beck. You saved the day and ensured that an otherwise smooth production continued to the end.
This letter in reply was published in the Newbury Weekly News on 29th October.
Judging from audience reaction, play worked
I would first like to thank Derek Ansell for his review of The Importance of Being Earnest which he saw at New Era on Friday, September 9 (Newbury Weekly News, September 15).
I appreciated that he recognised that there was much that was new and fresh about how this play was conceived and staged, together with 'original touches'.
However, I felt it was strange that the director was not mentioned in this review – indeed this has happened in other reviews that he has written – as on the whole the plaudits and brickbats should be aimed at the director for decisions taken when staging a production.
I would like to mention one of the decisions of mine to play Lady Bracknell in a more subtle and interesting way than the normal harridan.
Mr Ansell quotes the words gorgon and monster from the script but a gorgon instilled fear into men through personality and by an intense stare and we all know that female theatrical monsters come in all forms; Beverley in Abigail's Party and Judith Bliss in Hay Fever being two who use snobbery, condescension and sarcasm as weapons rather than a 'voice to shake walls'.
I agree that Wilde's lines are brilliant but surely it is his words that are the weapons and not the volume?
As the audience clearly enjoyed the humour as they have laughed at every performance and many of them have said how refreshing it was to have the character of Lady Bracknell played in a different way than the obvious, some credit should be given for a valid interpretation rather than using a large amount of the review to hammer home a personal view without a hint of objectivity.
I would end by saying that judging by the audience reaction it does – and did – work!
The Importance of Being Earnest
New Era Players