The Importance of Being Earnest



Stately as a saraband, the ritual of setting the tea table captures the spirit of Richard Frost's production of Oscar Wilde's stylish classic for Jill Freud & Company.

Nearly everyone knows how it goes – most of us can quote dozens of the most celebrated lines – so the fun is watching the artfully contrived situations developing to the right conclusions. Pacing is of the essence, and clarity is hardly less vital.

Maurice Rubens, as always, sets the scene with economical elegance, and costume designer Richard Handscombe makes sure that the gentleman looks smart and that the ladies are pictures of fashion from 100 years back. The only doubt is with Canon Chasuble's crumpled surplice: his name and nature suggest fussiness over vestments.

Three pairs of characters are the foundation of the plot. Jonathan Jones as Worthing and Richard Emerson's Moncrieff are an accomplished couple of toffs enjoying privileged frivolity. But they turn to jelly when confronted by girls and are frozen by Lady Bracknell.

Jill Freud takes that part. Not for her the vocal roller-coasting that has become the hallmark of the role, but a more natural delivery that she still contrives to load with authority. When she speaks, all obey. But it is no surprise when she is persuaded by the elegance of money. Patience Tomlinson, as Miss Prism, also shows the advantages of avoiding stereotyped overstatement.

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Pink stripes emphasise Kitty Lucas's height though nothing could add to the haughtiness of her splendid Gwendolyn, while Amy Price is a more demur Cecily. Charming girls both of them, but these two kittens have claws. When they hunt together, men haven't got a chance.

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