The Importance of Not Being Too Earnest

The Harold Pinter (or Comedy Theatre as was) is a box of delights – if a little cramped in the way of refreshment areas (everything  seems in miniature) – although the MoonLight Bar has a particular 20s charm; again, paucity of seats resulted in theatre-goers lounging picturesquely on the stairs leading up from it, wanting only beads, boas and boaters to complete the effect of a 20s-themed evening out.

It is also one of the few theatres still with binoculars to hire; these I took full advantage of, and with elbow room to spare (owing to a few empty seats on either side of me – and I hadn’t even eaten any garlic…) I was able to whisk out my charcoal and sketch block and practise ‘minute drawing’.

There were moments when I nearly succeeded: the actors did occasionally stand still just long enough for me to throw down the rough outlines, but most of the time they were bouncing about like spring chickens – which almost made redundant the added framework of an amateur company (The Bunbury Players)in its twilight years rehearsing a reunion production in a country home. This particular production has divided opinion amongst critics on that point – still, it does offer further opportunities to mess about with the cucumber sandwiches,  and hint at various off-stage debacles; there is sparkle, and laugh-out-loud aplenty as they leap, skip and wit their ways through the play which is allowed to proceed pretty much unhindered once the initial point is made.  If Oscar Wilde had, Gilbert & Sullivan-like, allowed free license with regard to age we might after all have lost the fun of the extraneous paraphernalia: the Test match results, carefully camouflaged by the drinks cabinet, the on-stage mending of costumes that will insist on splitting seams in the wrong places, and so on.

The set itself is a treasure trove of Art Nouveau and William Morris – it might almost be the Red House itself; there is no lack of detail, and the tantalizing view into the garden beyond allows us background tweets and chirrups to accompany the tea and cakes scene with Gwendolen and Cecily.

Poised and polished, the Young Ones are smooth yet fresh, their acting lively and intelligent and a treat to watch – with an added treat in the presence of Sian Phillips as Lady Bracknell.  Restrained and musical as ever and never resorting to caricature she makes the role her own with quiet, unassuming command.

It is another production where I have had the pleasure of watching Dudley and Bailey working together: in particular in the treatment of lighting, which is approached  as a persona in itself, with its own presence, cues and exits; as in their work on Turgenev’s Fool, there is a sense of real time, the passing of the day, rehearsal and story from morning through afternoon towards dusk, complete with a summer storm half way through.


Very much a fun evening out and recommended – go while you can, it runs until late September and is worth the suspension of belief of a septuagenarian John Worthing answering to the age of twenty-nine (he certainly sounds twenty nine).

A very willing suspension of belief on my part – it is theatre, after all.



Cast : Rosalind Ayres, Niall Buggy, Nigel Havers , Martin Jarvis, Christine Kavanagh , Cherie Lunghi and Sian Phillips.

The Importance of Being Earnest is booking at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 20 September.

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