No one wants to piss on Poirot’s chips, but this really isn’t very good.
David Suchet is a superb actor. Like Angela Lansbury if you set aside his television detective work he still has an impressive pedigree even if West End appearances have been rare. But no director casting a well-funded revival of The Importance of Being Earnest would think of Suchet for Lady Bracknell any sooner than they’d ask Lansbury to play King Lear, and there is a whiff of vanity project about the enterprise.
In the posters, coyly beneath a slanted hat he has a look of Francesca Annis, but that only starts you thinking which other actresses could more elegantly have assayed the role after Lucy Bailey’s 2014 surreal version with Sian Phillips and sixty-something ‘young people’ then why not Annis as Lady Bracknell? Or Frances Barber, Harriet Walter, Fiona Shaw, Helen Mirren – write your own list and if you really want a money-spinner, change them every month and it will run for ever.
He is never indecorous but lacks the immersive subtlety of Brian Bedford in New York or Geoffrey Rush in Australia, and from the billowing bosom to the barking delivery you never forget this is a man in a frock.
Where Suchet’s performance does score is in the exposition of the character as a Tory arriviste, a social climber turned ruthless defender of the class system having vaulted its barriers and obtained a title. She’s really Michael Gove.
Suchet is quoted as saying that critics may dislike performances or interpretations but none will condemn the play, and of course the lines and situations remain vibrant – it’s still the best period comedy in the English language and as a warhorse for repertory and amateur productions almost bomb-proof. Which is as well, because the salary splurged on Suchet may have left little for ancillary casting: both the girls are straight out of drama school. Emily Barber captures Gwendolen’s pert confidence very prettily but lapses into strange Scottish inflections and poor Imogen Doel has been woefully misdirected to render Cecily (for some reason mispronounced here as though she were a large Italian island) as a precocious fourteen-year-old romantic fantasist which makes Algy’s interest in her inappropriate in ways Wilde certainly didn’t intend.
The boys have more track record, largely Shakespearean: Philip Cumbus displays polish and authority as Algernon and effectively drives the plot whereas Michael Benz’s Jack Worthing seems younger and more playful so his attempts to scold or control wayward Algy look odd. I think they’re cast the wrong way round, but they work together well as a double-act when Adrian Noble fills the long gap between Lady Bracknell’s setpieces with a series of knockabout comic exchanges which don’t actually detract from the script, a plate of muffins achieving sardine-like status in a tussle worthy of Noises Off.
Playing to the same gallery are veterans Michele Dotrice and Richard O’Callaghan as the abstracted governess Miss Prism and her modest celibate suitor Dr Chasuble – O’Callaghan’s dishevelled interpretation very nicely pointed and Dotrice only slightly too broad in the comedy when she fractures some of the lines, but refreshingly distanced from the Margaret Rutherford mould.
With elaborated detailing and limited furniture Peter McIntosh’s trio of sets has an operatic feel – the garden looks ready for The Magic Flute – but they do leave plenty of room for the swagger and posturing that defines this production.
The post Review: The Importance of Being Earnest (Vaudeville Theatre) appeared first on JohnnyFox.