Theatre Review: THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST – Albert Halls, Bolton

Bolton’s Albert Hall’s grand Victorian setting brings to life Oscar Wilde’s sensational and lavish comedy THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

3 out of 5 stars

Oscar Wilde’s farcical masterpiece THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is brought to life in the beautiful Albert Halls whilst the Bolton Octagon undergoes renovation in preparation for its 50th anniversary.

The stunning architecture provides an apt atmosphere for the play, given its high-class tone and protagonists. The building is utilised as part of the set, with some skilled dressing from David Woodhead finishing off the look perfectly. Woodhead also designed the magnificent costumes and these period gowns and suits are a joy to look at.

However, the size of the halls did prove to be a hindrance, as the actors didn’t seem to be wearing microphones, so some lines were lost. With a play from such a skilled wordsmith as Wilde, this is a true shame. Many of his “wordier” jokes were wasted, purely because not every word was heard. This is also true of some of the slapstick and farcical humour, but for a different reason. Some of the jokes just weren’t taken as far as they could have been.

This wasn’t always the case though, for example, Gwendolen’s excitement at Ernest’s proposal was taken to a level I have never seen or considered before, and it was very funny to watch. Elizebeth Twells almost steals the show as Miss Gwendolen Fairfax, ripping off her clothes and stomping round in hunting garb. She’s not afraid of taking it “too far” and every one of her scenes is a riot.

Her mother, Lady Bracknell is played by Sarah Ball, who does a nice job of the uptight mother in law. It’s less the comical parody of Victorian femininity seen in other productions, and as a result, she is less funny than Lady B has the potential to be. Nevertheless, she still lands plenty of jokes.

Melissa Lowe also gives a lovely performance as Cecily, perfectly capturing her girlish charms and childlike innocence. Vicky Entwistle plays her governess, Miss Prism, and really steals the show in the last act. The mischievous Algernon is played by Jack Hardwick, and he always provides plenty of comedy in his scenes. Finally, Jack/Ernest is played by Dean Fagan, and the two play beautifully off each other. Both manage to be wonderfully likeable despite the despicable things they say and do.

Traditionally, THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is performed in three acts, although in this production, Director Suba Das combines the first two acts. Although this might be more what a modern audience is used to, it makes the show feel very unbalanced, the second act at barely half an hour compared to the hour and a half that the first act spanned. Perhaps they would have been better keeping it with two intervals but making them shorter.

The show does take a couple of risks, opening each act with a movement piece set to classical music and adding a few stylistic choices to the staging, but overall this is a very faithful interpretation of the classic play. It’s very enjoyable to watch, even for those unfamiliar with the play.

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST runs at the Albert Halls, Bolton until 15 June 2019