Theater Reviews



Vaudeville Theatre, London
Through April 26

LONDON -- Decorated with more quotable lines than any play has a right to, Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" is given a sprightly revival at London's Vaudeville Theatre with the women, for once, having the edge.

Orphaned John Worthing (Harry Hadden-Paton), who is known as Ernest in town and Jack in the country, and his best pal Algernon Moncrieff (William Ellis) are a couple of gay blades in the (mostly) old-fashioned sense who usually dominate proceedings by trying to marry into money.

Lady Bracknell (Penelope Keith) is on hand to look down her imperious nose at the goings on of the youngsters and to see that her daughter Gwendolen (Daisy Haggard) also marries well. Worthing's ward Cecily (Rebecca Night) also has her sights on marriage although being exceedingly well off, the only urgency is from her impatient libido.

The most famous line in the play is Lady Bracknell's exclamation of "A Handbag?" when Jack a.k.a. Ernest reveals what he was found in when abandoned as an infant. Keith, star of the popular TV sitcoms "The Good Life" and "To the Manor Born" does well to avoid cliched delivery of such lines and gives the dowager a sprightly intelligence to go with her snobbery as she surveys her social scene.

Director Peter Gill moves things along at a swift pace and William Dudley's design is very handsome. Hadden-Paton and Ellis bat Wilde's clever witticisms back and forth with flare while Maxwell Hutcheon as Algernon's manservant, Janey Henfrey as Cecily's governess, Roger Swaine as Jack's butler, and Tim Wylton as a cheery vicar chime in with precision.

Best of all are the young actresses Haggard and Night. Haggard plays Gwendolen as very much Lady Bracknell's daughter, combining a keen eye for what's what with a knowing lust for the main chance. Night's radiant beauty makes Cecily a striking figure that she enhances with sly wit and line readings demonstrating that Wilde made his female characters very smart indeed.

Vaudeville Theatre
Presented by Theatre Royal Bath Prods. in association with Michael Codron
Playwright: Oscar Wilde
Director: Peter Gill
Designer: William Dudley
Lighting designer: Stephen Wentworth
Sound designer: Mike Beer
Lady Bracknell: Penelope Keith
Algernon Moncrieff: William Ellis
John Worthing: Harry Hadden-Paton
Gwendolen: Daisy Haggard
Cecily: Rebecca Night
Miss Prism: Janet Henfrey
Lane: Maxwell Hutcheon
Rev. Canon Chasuble: Tim Wylton
Merriman: Roger Swaine