Algernon Moncrieff is a young man who makes sure he enjoys his life and will even lie to friends and family about a make-believe sick friend who needs regular visits in order for his enjoyment of life to run smoothly.
His friend John Worthing, similarly, has created a fake brother alter ego, Ernest Worthing, that allows him to be louche and lecherous in London under this guise while his rural friends remain innocently unaware that he is anything other than an upstanding pillar of the country community. It is the farcical falling apart of these masquerades that become the bones to which the literary meat is hung.
This is the world of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest where the Victorian mores of Lady Bracknell reign supreme and the young women are not the shy, retiring types of novels from that era. Wilde creates strong-willed women who make the rules and make weak men do their bidding, and none more so than the domineering Lady Augusta Bracknell, aunt of Algernon and mother of Lady Gwendolyn Fairfax, for whom she wants to find a suitable husband. At the outset ‘Ernest’ wants to fill that position but he, alas, is not even on Lady B’s list of eligible suitors.
In Act Two, when the action moves from London to the country, ‘Ernest’ returns to being John and Algernon assumes the role of ‘Ernest’ in order to get his sticky fingers on a young miss. It is also where we get to meet John’s young ward Cecily Cardew (Emily-Rose Clarkson)who gets to steal every scene she’s in. The farce starts to flow rather fast as all the characters turn up unannounced one by one to take us to the end.
Harriet Earle’s Bracknell is masterful in the role of puppet-mastering her family and those who want to get ‘hands on’ with her rather flirty daughter; her epigrams and repartee put her head and shoulders above any of the men here. She probably has the best lines, but Wilde is very good at giving all the characters their moments to shine in this, one of his best plays. Ms Cardew certainly makes the most of what she has to work with, and Daniel Desiano gives a great, understated performance as both butlers, but for me it is Daniel Hall as Algernon who stands out. He looks like an Algernon, sounds like an Algernon and on the night I was there he got a fat lip from Cecily for being Algernon! Ouch! Wilde’s words are a wonder of wit and hilarity that brighten up any stage, and his genius is shown here via excellent turns from all the cast.
The Importance of Being Earnest is on at The Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, SE4 2DH until December 2nd. Times: Tues – Sat 7.45pm. Admission: £15, £12 concs. Phone: 07984 415572. www.brockleyjack.co.uk