I was pleased to find £10 tickets for The Importance of Being Earnest at the Harold Pinter Theatre, and I wasn’t even worried about the likelihood of finding a pillar in my view, but it wasn’t that far in that I felt I wanted at least £5 of my £10 back (and the £5 I was happy for them to keep was for the charming set).
This is not so much a poor production as it is a poorly conceived one. Oscar Wilde’s amazingly witty play is couched in a modern super-plot that turns the performance into a final rehearsal for a regional repertory society’s production.
In itself, it does bring some additional humour in the form of extra quips and some additional wit, but it adds nothing of value to Wilde’s play or its message, and I would argue that in so doing, it undermines the quality of Wilde’s work.
I’m no purist. I do like playing with the great works, and appreciate a novel setting or treatment for something as familiar as this, but the problem here lies in how far Wilde stretches our willingness to suspend our disbelief. Lady Bracknell is patently absurd, and yet when performed well, she is recognisable from life and is the engine for the play’s theme. Turning Lady Bracknell into an actor performing Lady Bracknell completely undermines her integrity, and entirely flattens Wilde’s play.
If there was a point being made by the extraneous setting, it may have worked, but it adds nothing worthwhile, and ought to have been eschewed.
The best production I have seen remains Rhys Holden’s Canberra production with Free Rain Theatre in the early noughties, which retained Wilde’s words but provided an entirely modern setting, enlivening the play brilliantly.
This production doesn’t even hold a candle to it. Particularly disappointing.