The Importance of Being Earnest

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich


> Maddermarket Theatre, Norwich

Oscar Wilde would have been 150 this year, but his celebrated comedy of high society seems to have eternal youth.

It no more shows its age than those evergreen cucumber sandwiches or Emma Dunstan's deliciously innocent Cecily.

Admittedly, John Mangan's production takes a little while to get into its stride. Algernon (Daniel Humphreys) seemed at first to make more of his foppish side than his wit, which is a step in the wrong direction.

Don Homfray's set is a bit austere, too, at first; it looks a lot better when instantly transformed into a country house later on.

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The temperature goes up as Susan Seddon sweeps in as Lady Bracknell, commanding respect with a voice that guarantees doom.

Her articulation cut through the young people's plans like a hatchet. Gwendoline (Harriet Catchpone) has a lot to offer, too, in a pink dress and the most fetching of silly little hats. Her still waters promise to run deep or at least splash very prettily over Victorian shallows.

Wearing a capacious brown skirt as a declaration of respectability, Oonagh Segrave-Daly is a magnificent Miss Prism.

Her comic strengths are developed by Noel Jones as Canon Chasuble. Gaiters, whiskers and namby pamby gravity create a clergyman curiously lost in all the changing scenes of life. His voice is the perfect echo of his calling.

With such a cast the play triumphantly goes on its ordained way to those craftily engineered confrontations. Everything is familiar, so everything depends on style. Fortunately, it is here in spades as the classic comes up once more as fresh as paint.

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