The Importance of Being Earnest, Lauderdale House, review; ‘a wonderful evening with contemporary spin’

PUBLISHED: 17:00 26 August 2016 | UPDATED: 17:07 26 August 2016

The Importance of Being Earnest at Lauderdale House. Picture: Polly Hancock

The Importance of Being Earnest at Lauderdale House. Picture: Polly Hancock

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The Importance of Being Earnest is a challenge for any theatre company bur it works at Lauderdale House

The Importance of Being Earnest is a challenge for any theatre company.

The 1952 Redgrave/Evans/Rutherford film version of Oscar Wilde’s stage classic, with its crystal diction and affected delicacy, is ever replayed in the minds of audiences of all subsequent productions.

On Friday, more than 150 people of every age gathered on Lauderdale House’s Tea Lawn with blankets, picnics and wine, the tree tops of Waterlow Park providing the backdrop to this wonderful evening.

Director Helen Crosse has opted for modern costume and attempted to give a more contemporary spin. She has been pretty successful but, perhaps unwisely, seems to have encouraged the cast to accelerate the dialogue. Some of Wilde’s lines are immortal classics of theatre and deserve to be savoured.

From the moment that Algernon (the buoyant Peter Steele) appeared with Lane the butler (a proto-Jeeves, excellently conjured by Simon Chappell) it was clear that this was going to be a very energetic performance – confirmed by the vigorous arrival of Jack (Joe Sargent).

As the action developed it quickly became clear that all the members of the cast were having a terrific time and heartily enjoying themselves. This sense of fun was picked up by the audience who conspired to laugh heartily in all the right places: the proposal scene (brilliantly played by Laura Wickham as Gwendolen) was a thigh slapper.

Anna Friend’s Lady Bracknell delivered the expected authority but (in the open air) lacked projection and, although an immensely gifted actor, Katherine Judkins is simply not old enough to convey the precision and other-worldliness of Miss Prism.

The contrast in calculation between the louche, rich ne’re-do-wells Jack and Algernon and the targets of their affections was well drawn – Libbi Fox’s Cecily was innocent but manipulative; Gwendolen, all frivolity but as targeted and as deadly as an Exocet. This was as near a perfect evening as the theatre can offer. A highlight of the Highgate summer. Visit lauderdalehouse.org.uk for details.

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