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The Importance of Being Earnest at Manchester Library Theatre

Published by: Caroline May on 10th Jun 2010 | View all blogs by Caroline May

The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde’s “trivial comedy for serious people”, gets a seriously good revival in the final production to grace the Library Theatre stage.

In just over a century this pearl among plays has taken its place alongside the classics of the canon.  Wilde’s sparkling wit and idiosyncratic style reach their acme in a text which is now so universally familiar that, like Hamlet, every line seems to be a quotation.

Director Chris Honer has assembled a cast of familiar faces (including old favourite Leigh Symonds as a brace of butlers) alongside a new generation of acting talent.  Among his discoveries is floppy-haired fop Alex Felton, a long-limbed, lissom youth who seems to have been born to play the role of the incorrigible Algie.  Florence Hall’s Cecily is perfect as the Victorian type of unspoiled innocence, although Natalie Grady as the more worldly Gwendolen has the edge on them both when it comes to comic timing.

Simon Harrison brings humour and sweetness to the otherwise stolid Jack Worthing, and Olwen May’s very funny turn as dotty governess Miss Prism gives the character more than her usual share of charm.  However Malcolm James’s cameo as the inveterate celibate Rev Chasuble nearly steals the whole show, wringing a laugh from every line without ever overplaying.  In fact the whole production is an example of what can be achieved from truth and taste, something Wilde would have appreciated.

It may seem strange, but the best example of this self-imposed restraint is the director’s decision to have Lady Bracknell played in drag.  Russell Dixon’s solid bulldog build and uncompromising masculinity mean that even though he speaks in low and moderate tones his Lady Bracknell has an underlying authority.  Ironically this enables him to play her as a living, breathing woman, rather than as the shrill caricature which is often the character’s fate. 

Designer Judith Croft’s opulent sets consist of a wall of slats with a beautiful cut-out design and a well-matched assemblage of antique furniture,  And her mouth-watering costumes almost deserve their own billing: the Lady Bracknell tout ensemble plays a huge part in Russell Dixon’s transformation, while Alex Felton seems to have become Ms Croft’s fashion muse.  How else could she have dreamed up those divine crimson shot-silk breeches?  And who else could possible have carried them off with such aplomb?

There can’t be a theatre-goer in the region who doesn’t have a soft spot for Manchester’s lovely Library Theatre and who doesn’t regret the closure of the little auditorium buried in the Central Library’s basement.  However the Library Theatre Company itself lives on and will be performing at The Lowry for the next few seasons.  And at least The Importance if Being Earnest is a high-point for the company to take leave of its home of more than half a century.


The Importance of Being Earnest is on until Saturday 3 July 2010

Prices: £8.00-£18.00 (concessions available)

Eves: Mon-Thurs @ 7.30pm; Fri & Sat @ 8pm

Matinees: Thurs & Sat @ 3pm

Box Office: 0161 236 7110




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