Friday, 9 October 2015

Review: The Importance Of Being Earnest (Theatre)

World of Blackout Film Review

The Importance Of Being Earnest Poster

The Importance Of Being Earnest
(Live Broadcast from The Vaudeville Theatre, London)
Cert: 12A / 118 mins*1 / Dir. Adrian Noble (& Ross MacGibbon) / Trailer
WoB Rating: 6/7

It's an awkward position to be in, that's for sure. To think of oneself as an ardent admirer of Oscar Wilde, whilst at the same time to have never-before seen his much-lauded masterpiece. That a play as acerbically modern-minded as The Importance Of Being Earnest premiered in 1895 seems almost unbelievable*2; indeed, the comedically brutal matriarch of British theatre has become in institution in itself, like the West-End Farce or Pantomime. Sadly, considering it's the godfather of the former, there's slightly too much of the latter in Adrian Noble's presentation of the play for its own good…

The main attraction of the production (in terms of bums-on-seats, at least), David Suchet, is clearly having a whale of a time as Lady Bracknell, the aforementioned Matron Aunt of the piece, casting disapproving scowls and withering glances on all and sundry. But Suchet seems to ramp up the comedy to the point of pantomime-dame; no great tragedy in itself (and he is marvellous), except that the rest of the cast are hell-bent on keeping up with him. The razor-sharp script full of deadpan quips and intoned punchlines is almost lost under the exaggerated delivery of the cast, apparently playing solely to the back of the room (because if the general feel is of pantomime, the Act II sequence between Michele Dotrice's Miss Prism and Richard O'Callaghan's Reverend Chasuble is like watching 'Allo 'Allo…).

Michael Benz and Philip Cumbus give great turns as Jack and Algernon respectively (or Ernest and Ernest, if you will), and Emily Barber and Imogen Doel feel slightly more at ease with their roles as Gwendolen and Cecily. Yet somehow the ensemble doesn't seem to quite hang together, and it occasionally feels like a collection of actors waiting to say their lines. Which is precisely what you don't want when you're watching a live performance (or any performance, to be fair).

But what the hell do I know about live theatre? Massively enjoyable (but for 'what it is' rather than 'how it's done'), The Importance Of Being Earnest is the archetypal timeless classic and tonight's show means I'll now investigate it in more forms (film, TV, audio and indeed live when the opportunity arises), if only because I don't think this is quite the best it can be. A great play which succeeds in spite of its excesses, here.

If Oscar Wilde's flippant sarcasm illustrates only one point, it's that the modern-world has always been this ghastly…

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
If you can, do.

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
Well, many of these cine-broadcast shows are now finding their way to various (fully legitimate) streaming sites, so you may well be able to enjoy this in the comfort of your own favourite space soon.
(My own favourite space happens to be the cinema of course, but that's by the by)

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
From my (admittedly) limited viewing experience with the cast, not quite.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
I think it does.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Not at all.

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
Not at all.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
David Suchet played Hercule Poirot, of course, in the episode The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, which also starred Oliver Ford 'Sio Bibble' Davies.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Okay, unbecoming sweary-rant: The actual stage-time of the production is around 118 minutes. There are three acts of 37, 50 and 31 minutes, with two 15 minute intervals. That's fine. No seriously, that's great, because the entire set needs to change between them, I get that. But don't put 7pm on the fucking cinema tickets (and the website, and the in-cinema foyer-display screens), when the handout the staff give the audience says "Broadcast LIVE from the Vaudeville Theatre to this cinema at 7.15pm", and everyone's sat in the auditorium by 7:01pm and the house-lights are up and nothing's happening, then a still-card appears on-screen saying "29 minutes to Curtain Up" and the only thing to then change is the gradual decrement of that number. A couple of interviews begin at 7:20 (director Adrian Noble and actor David Suchet) prior to the performance, but for fuck's sake at least have the decency to run some fucking adverts after getting everyone to the cinema twenty fucking minutes early to sit and look at nothing. You absolute bastards.
Oh, and for obvious reasons, I am in no way holding my cinema responsible for any of this. They go with the times they're given and they run the satellite-feed, and I'm absolutely cool with that.
The experience wasn't as infuriating as the broadcast-delay before The Emperor's New Clothes, but since tonight's was entirely intentional on the part of the organisers, it felt worse. [/rant]

*2 Although we always like to think we're far more sophisticated connoisseurs of art and performance than our forebears were, the play was evidently successful enough to have survived this long in its various adaptations. Whether Wilde was ahead of his time or not, it turns out some of those Victorian folks could even have been as cool as some of us, like a frock-coated equivalent of a Stewart Lee audience, thinking they're somehow better than the collective they're exactly a part of.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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