THEATRE REVIEW: The Importance of Being Earnest ★★★★

The Importance of Being Earnest 4
The Barn Theatre, Cirencester
Thursday 23rd January - Saturday 15th February 2020

Right from the moment that the clock strikes the evening’s performance, we are thrust into a worrying scenario that any theatrical company would dread, for it is told from Stage Manager Kevin Mckinnon (Aidan Harkins) that the large ensemble cast who are due perform one of Oscar Wilde’s most famous plays are running late, considerably late in fact. In what then sounds similar to a heckle from the rear of the auditorium, Producer Graham de Hare (Ryan Bennett) storms through the centre aisle to clamber onto the stage and discuss the current disaster in the wings, projected around the auditorium for all to hear. It’s not long though until a  decision has been made, for Hare and Mckinnon will indeed proceed with the performance, voluntarily acting out all the roles with as much clarity and precision. 

For those who attended The Barn’s rather sensational production of Daddy Long Legs in the latter half of last year, the name Ryan Bennett may sound familiar, for he in fact portrayed Jervis Pendelton to an exceptional standard, and to see him once again grace the same stage as he was once on only months prior, and this time in another two-hander, is a pleasure to observe. Though this may be Aidan Harkins very first role at The Barn, his attitude and energy throughout is rather wonderful, with clear care from both performers to show off their considerable talents in multi-rolling when thrown into the deep end in terms of their character arcs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this wasn’t the last we have seen of these two greats on stage.

Bryan Hodgson, who takes the directorial plinth for this latest outing fundamentally is entwined in understanding the target audience for such a farce; there were points throughout where it felt as though individuals would keel over with laughter. Though it’s simply put just two performers on stage,  Hodgson hardly ever makes the stage feel bare unless it certainly needs to be, by pumping exaggeration and amplification in our leads performances jumping between the array of madness they must endure with the numerous characters between them, and most certainly the highlights came at the points where costumes were unravelling before our very eyes. The use of windows either side of stage also allowed for a short period of hat changes, something almost reminiscent to the train sequence in The 39 Steps. This moment is also superbly lit from Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner’s design, which whilst otherwise throughout is quite simple, cleverly lends itself well to the possibility of further transfers for the production, embedded with Harry Smith’s timeless Sound Design that gives the Benny Hill theme a certain run for its money.

The skill of a farcical production ultimately though is to slowly gain momentum and plant seeds throughout until it reaches its climax with a crescendo, and particularly in this production could not have been made more possible without Denise Cleal’s bold and recognisable costume designs that allow us to differentiate between the characters enacted on stage, and Sammi Wood’s Stage Management expertise off stage, to where he is most deservant of appearing for the closing bows to receive appreciation. 

Overall, The Barn have taken a well known performance style in the form of a farce and completely turned it upon its head; though I personally felt that it takes a larger amount of time to enter a flowing rhythm from its predecessors, the cast and creative team of ‘Earnest’ certainly can take pride in being able to mould a piece that near lets up on energy, or the kindness of allowing a peer to drop sugar lumps into their cup of tea...


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