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Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Newcastle Theatre Royal

David Suchet leads the cast in a glorious production of Oscar Wilde's most enduring comedy

****
Hugo Glendinning/PA Wire David Suchet as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest
David Suchet as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest

As a big fan of Friends, I’ll freely admit to being able to rattle off the next line of dialogue in any given episode. Whether it’s The One Where No-One’s Ready, The One With Ross’ Tan, The One With Chandler in a Box or The One Where Ross Finds Out, I’m confident I could offer a paper free prompting service to anyone who required it (I can’t think of an occasion where this would be useful, but am open to suggestions).

I was minded of this skill during Monday night’s performance of The Importance of Being Earnest - Oscar Wilde’s much-loved comic masterpiece which is bathing Newcastle Theatre Royal in biting Victorian satire this week.

Having only half seen one of the many on-screen adaptations of the play, I was hearing a steady stream of Wilde’s gloriously written lines for the first time. It was clear though, that many around me had a knowledge of the script mirroring my own aforementioned obsession. Aside from a production of Dirty Dancing, I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many people co-deliver the script at key moments.

Imogen Doel and Philip Cumbus as Cecily Cardew and Algernon Moncrieff The Importance of Being Earnest at Newcastle Theatre Royal

It was an audible testament to the affection and admiration in which this most classic of Victorian farces is still held, 120 years after its premiere; and the assembled cast did much to fan the flames of endearment for it.

Led by David Suchet as the formidable Lady Bracknell, there wasn’t a weak link among them as they revelled in three acts exploring love, lies, the high jinx of mistaken identity, secrets and the social ladder - much of which still resonates.

Indeed a memorable scene during which the lovely ladies of the piece - Gwendolen Fairfax (Emily Barber) and Cecily Cardew (Imogen Doel) - compare time-specific diary notes on when they received their marriage proposal from the same gentleman (who turned out to be not that) could well have offered the inspiration for the date-stamped Facebook update.

Suchet, of course best known for playing Agatha Christie’s iconic Belgian detective Hercule Poirot for the best part of 25 years, had everyone in the palm of his immaculately gloved hand well before he said ‘handbag’.

The Importance of Being Earnest at Newcastle Theatre Royal Michael Benz and Emily Barber as John/Jack Worthing and Lady Gwendolen Fairfax
The Importance of Being Earnest at Newcastle Theatre Royal Michael Benz and Emily Barber as John/Jack Worthing and Lady Gwendolen Fairfax

Embracing his upper register with gusto, the veteran actor milked every corseted and nose-powdered moment - as the script dictates - swishing grandly around the stage as the matriarch who is the undoubted centrepiece of the action - despite not gracing the stage at all in Act II,

The latter didn’t matter though and offered the wonderful-to-watch cast the chance to bask in a slice of the limelight (or sunshine, given the walled garden setting), making the most of a gift of a script and producing a string of hilarious moments.

Philip Cumbus as Algernon Moncrieff and Michael Benz as John/Jack Worthing put in sterling turns - the race to finish the plate of muffins offering a particular highlight - as they attempted to handle the consequences of their respective fibs and save their relationships with the women they had successfully - and very entertainingly - wooed. Meanwhile Michelle Dotrice as Miss Prism, The Governess who has a glint in her eye for the local reverend was an absolute treat to watch too.

Act III sees all the questions and conflicts happily resolved in the drawing room of John and Cecily’s country (Lady Bracknell’s very own C-Word) house with the Lady in question (who else?) pursing and shooting from her perfectly-frocked hip at its centre. Wonderful stuff.

The Importance of Being Earnest appears at Newcastle Theatre Royal until Saturday. Tickets from £14.50 and can be purchased from the Theatre Royal Box Office on 08448 11 21 21 or select your own seat and book online at www.theatreroyal.co.uk

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