The Nottingham New Theatre presents a charming yet cheeky rendition of Oscar Wilde’s most renowned play, The Importance of Being Earnest. The play is a witty tragic comedy which comments satirically on the moral standards of Victorian society. The NNT have succeeded in resurrecting Wilde’s text to make it both an enjoyable and humorous experience for its young, modern audience. Isabelle Kennedy-Grimes reviews.
Something I loved about this performance was how the same amount of attention had been paid to characterisation of the smaller roles as to the protagonists. This was evident from the opening scene of the play, with Ryan Morgan’s comical performance as Algernon’s butler, which continued to invite laughter from the audience whenever he appeared. In addition to this, Molly Lapin’s take on Miss Prism was delightfully natural and subtly humorous. I was also particularly impressed with Jake Levy’s performance as Jack Worthing – his frequent interaction with the audience through facial expressions gave his character a likeable charm, as well as adding to the plays comedic value.
What stood out the most, I found, in every actor’s performance was their execution of what was clearly great direction. Chiedza McNab and Lucy House draw attention to the play’s masterful innuendos through suggestiveness in some of the blocking, which was both helpful in providing optimum understanding of the lines, as well as being humorous. Some of my favourite moments in fact were the interactions between characters, through movement and facial expression, which were unscripted. The blocking of Acts Two and Three was especially effective in highlighting the cattiness between Gwendolyn and Cecily. I found that the blocking of scenes between Gwendolyn and Jack also mirrored the power dynamic of their relationship, where Gwendolyn aimed her lines at the audience, meanwhile Jack’s were all directed to Gwendolyn.
Perhaps one of the most pleasantly surprising choices made by McNab and House was the casting of Nicholas Landon to play Lady Bracknell. Gender-swapping in theatre is something I generally associate with pantomime and I think Landon’s performance certainly evoked that of a pantomime character. For me, this created opportunity for an overtly exaggerated performance, which suited very well the character of Lady Bracknell.
The use of lighting which, despite being kept simple, was used at key moments to enhance particular emotions
What struck me about the set when I first entered the theatre was the portrait on the wall which incorporated an image of William Hardman, the actor playing Algernon. I thought this was a nice, comical touch to the proud and pretentious Algernon’s living room. I applaud Subhangi Namburi and Arielle Shaul’s set design overall – I liked the versatility of the backdrop and felt that the three intervals in which it was altered were a good opportunity for audience members to reflect on the previous act and prepare for the second. They broke down the play well and made it feel shorter than it was. My only criticism of the set is that I think decking would have been beneficial in maintaining the illusion of the play. At times, I found it distracting when characters would stand outside of the space designated by the backdrop.
Lastly, I would like to comment on the use of lighting which, despite being kept simple, was used at key moments to enhance particular emotions. My favourite uses of lighting in the play were the flash of white light cast on Algernon to depict him going pale, and the spotlight followed by Jack’s character in the opening of Act Two, as he sought Cecily’s attention.
Ultimately, I was thoroughly impressed with the quality of acting across the entire cast, and what I would deem most credible about the performance is McNab and House’s direction. Having studied the play, I was already quite familiar with the embedded satire which mocks both the elite classes and heterosexual relationships. The performance honoured Wilde’s rebellion and use of innuendos a way which would have been far too radical in contemporary performances.
Featured image courtesy of The Nottingham New Theatre via Facebook. Permission for use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
In-article images courtesy of @earnest.nnt via @instagram.com. No changes were made to these images.
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