There's not much room for variation in producing Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, right? It's not a play that naturally lends itself to modern dress or interpretation or anything remotely avant-garde and that is OK, it is part of its charm.
Surprised then when this production, directed by Lucy Bailey, opens with partial modern dress and Nigel Havers' 'Algernon' answering a mobile phone. It is OK though, this is the Bunbury Players doing a final at-home run-through for their production of The Importance of Being Earnest. They are all a bit long in the tooth but their productions are legendary, apparently.
It's a nice set up with tensions between the cast, hints at affairs between cast members and a disappearing plate of prop cucumber sandwiches. It is an extra layer of intrigue, potential gaffs and japes - Cheri Lunghi ('Gwendoline') is followed around, while she performs, props are missing and the prompt sits comfortably in a window seat.
The problem is that as the 'Earnest' run through progresses the references the Bunbury Players start to disappear until, other than a discussion about whether Algernon should wink on his last line of the first half, it is pretty much a straight up production.
When it is just The Importance of Being Earnest and, in particular, the second half of the play Wilde's witty dialogue crackles and sparks and it is a joy to watch. Sian Phillips is superb as Lady Bracknell. However, when it comes to the Bunbury Players set up it works merely to explain why the actors are all older than the "Earnest" characters they are playing. Points for trying to do something new but points deducted for not carrying it through.
The Importance of Being Earnest is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 20th September before embarking on a regional tour.
Thanks very much to Official Theatre for providing my ticket.