Amidst a sea of hummus pots and picnic blankets, Shooting Stars theatre company picked their way across the lawn of Lauderdale House to perform Wilde’s perennial masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest. The very nature of the summer evening meant that audience, actors and indeed the concept of the fourth wall were all relaxed to produce an entertainingly light-hearted revisit of this Victorian classic.
There was little in terms of new concepts or experimentation, but this proved a wise decision on behalf of director Helen Crosse. The performance stayed true to the text, although the updated costumes were an amusing allusion to the twenty-something socialites that nowadays one finds brimming at the seams of Kensington and Chelsea. This brought a humorous new light to the originally Victorian archetypes, which productions can often fail at quite miserably. Crosse has a keen eye for bringing out the comedy of a piece and the exaggerated style in which many of the lines were performed was successful. The almost pantomime-esque tinge Crosse brought to the piece saw lines directed outwards to the audience and frequent pointing to a poor couple on the front row to illustrate quips about marital discord. This did not necessarily demean the performance but instead made it more accessible to younger audience members; the production is billed as a family event.
However, the energy of each of the three acts seemed to fade with the evening sun. Act I was fast-paced and captivating but the exposition during the final scene felt as though the cast were nearing the end of their energy reserves; the glaringly bright spotlights focused on the stage following the interval severed the connection established in Act I between actors and audience. As a result, it felt like some of the magic had disappeared and it may have been beneficial to have some soft lighting extending beyond the stage onto the spectators for the remainder of the show.
The stand out performance was undoubtedly Peter Steele’s lovably deplorable portrayal of young dandy Algernon Moncrieff, employing a farcical style which invigorated every scene in which he was in. Joe Sargent was a worthy partner as Jack Worthing and watching the two on stage together was no doubt a highlight for many. However, the pace often waned when the scene grew more populated and sadly Anna Friend’s Lady Bracknell was far from the commanding ‘gorgon’ that one might expect; to my great disappointment, the highly anticipated ‘handbag’ line fell quite flat. Gwendolen (Laura Wickham) and Cecily (Libbi Fox) were competent but one felt that in comparison to Steele and Sargent, there could have been a greater attempt to make their characters more lifelike in a way that did not necessarily compromise the satirical quality of the piece.
Nevertheless, Shooting Stars achieved the primary goal of The Importance of Being Earnest: to get the audience laughing. It was a pleasurable way to spend a Thursday evening, ensuring (unlike me) you remember a blanket for when the sun finally creeps away.
The Importance of Being Earnest is playing at Lauderdale House until 21st August 2016.