The Importance of Being Earnest

An accessible production, in an accessible venue, with wonderfully accessible direction? It’s buttered muffins all round!

Which is just as well for sweet tooth Mr Worthing, whose taste for fine things applies to both women and afternoon teas - two things which typically go hand in hand but could not be further apart for this protagonist. 

This is thanks to his rather odd timetable, which sees him spending approximately half his time being known as ‘Jack’ in the Shropshire countryside, and the other half as his brother ‘Earnest’ in smoggy London. Unbeknownst to his family and friends, these two men are in fact one and the same, with Richard David-Caine effortlessly dividing the characters into their entirely own identities. Not only is this a central plot point, but also a large driving force for the gossip and scandal throughout due to the supposed siblings being so very different (and therefore unevenly respected). 

These themes of opposites and parallels are prevalent not only within the show itself, but also as part of the production team…

From the minute you arrive at the venue it is a spectacular visual experience, walking into the recently renovated foyer and box office space, through the restaurant cafe (which often doubles as a cabaret bar) all the way until the auditorium. The magic continues when you take your seat, as you may then marvel at Katie Lias’ set with a colour palette that looks like cotton candy solidified. Her artistic eye continues to impress with the variety of costumes used throughout the play, which are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also very clever - especially in conjunction with their backgrounds. 

Contrarily, the moment the dialogue begins you realise that the audio quality is not of the same standard. As interesting as the overhead microphone choice may be, sound designer Beth Duke doesn’t seem to provide the clarity needed for a script filled with such intricate and often rapid conversation. While this does not necessarily impact the audience in a negative way, it is unfortunate to miss a line here or there as you just can’t quite hear it well enough.

Two actors who never faced this issue were Gillian Bevan (playing snobby Mrs Bracknell) & Susannah Van Den Berg (the hilarious multi-rolling butler). These women were outstanding in an already impressive cast, and I left the theatre searching what they might both be in next. They are also who I’d credit with assuring an utterly humorous Act 2, after a noticeably less exciting first half. It is important to note, however, that the scenes never drag, and the story is not at all predictable. A tender balance of comedy and drama reminds us that clashes of class are a timeless thing, and the space remained consistently energised even in the physically static moments.

The late playwright Oscar Wilde himself would have been incredibly proud to see his work transformed so majestically, and gratitude for this must go primarily to director Ryan McBryde. His determination to ensure the play doesn’t sit complacently within just one genre means that it is a complete success for anyone who loves the book, and equally for those who have never read a piece of Victorian literature before.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest comedies ever written, The Importance of Being Earnest lives up to expectations as it zings with contemporary relevance. Two hours of satirising the hypocrisy of extreme wealth and materialism, and with some musical moments proving a pleasantly surprising addition, The Mercury have produced an absolute winner with this one. 

This show was reviewed on the 8th March 2024 and runs at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester until the 16th March 2024.  Tickets available here: The Importance of Being Earnest - Mercury Theatre

Review written by Katie McConnell


Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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