THEATRE REVIEW: ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’

'The Importance of Being Earnest'

By Ray Bennett

Simon Brett’s adaptation of “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Harold Pinter Theatre is not a straightforward production of the classic Oscar Wilde comedy as all the performers are far too old for their characters but that is part of the fun.

Martin Jarvis and Nigel Havers first played Jack and Algernon together at the National Theatre 32 years ago while the true Gwendolyn and Cecily days are far behind Cherie Lunghi and Christine Kavanagh.

That is the point, however, as the setting of the play is a country house where a troupe of irredeemable hams have come together for a full dress rehearsal of the Wilde play ahead of its opening at a local theatre.

The first scene is of the actors as themselves with a bit of back story about their assorted relationships and then they go into stage character. It allows some accomplished players to deliver the best of Wilde’s lines with suitable aplomb and give some that have dated a bit a bit of a wink and a nudge.

It says something about ageism and the egos of thespians who would love to cling to their youthful selves but it’s done with good humour. It works to advantage especially in Lady Bracknell’s killer exclamation: “A handbag?” Edith Evans put her indelible stamp on the question on stage and in Anthony Asquith’s 1952 film version.

In this new version directed by Lucy Bailey, Siân Phillips, who is the equal of any actress, plays with the line in the opening sequence in order to defuse expectation and duly gets a laugh so that when she delivers it briskly in the play it makes no ruffle.

The set-up also benefits Christine Kavanagh as Cecily so that the young heiress’s immature gushing takes on an added air of wistfulness and becomes much funnier.

Havers is a suave and simple-minded Algernon while Jarvis captures the manner of a dominating man unused to the notion that people see through his deceptions. Their comic timing is top-notch and is matched by the rest of the cast to make an entertaining evening.

Venue: Harold Pinter Theatre, Panton Street, London

Running time: 140 minutes including interval.

Runs to Sept. 20 and then is on tour in the UK.

Photo by Donald Cooper/Photostage

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Alan Rickman’s ‘A Little Chaos’ to close TIFF


By Ray Bennett

The Toronto International Film Festival announced that its closing film will be Alan Rickman’s period romance “A Little Chaos” starring Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenhaerts, which Lionsgate will release in the UK. Continue reading

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‘The Imitation Game’ to open London film fest

StudioCanal 'The Imitation Game' x575

By Ray Bennett

“The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as World War II code-breaker Alan Turing will be the opening film at the 58th BFI London Film Festival on Oct. 8 with simultaneous showings of the red-carpet event in cinemas across the country. Continue reading

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So long, Gentleman Jim Garner …

James Garner as Maverick x650

By Ray Bennett

Three times I interviewed James Garner, who has died aged 86, once in a long phone call and twice on set in Hollywood, and each time it was because he agreed to talk about someone else. Continue reading

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NT Live to screen Young Vic’s ‘Streetcar Named Desire’

NT Live Young Vic 'Streetcar Named Desire' x575

By Ray Bennett

National Theatre Live announced that it will broadcast Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” starring Gillian Anderson as Blanche Dubois live to cinemas in the UK and around the world from the Young Vic Theatre on Sept. 16. Continue reading

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‘Skylight’ breaks records ahead of NT Live screening

NT Live 'Skylight' x575

By Ray Bennett

Stephen Daldry’s production of David Hare’s play “Skylight”, which NT Live will broadcast to cinemas across the UK and around the world on July 17, has become the highest grossing show ever at Wyndham’s Theatre in London’s West End. Continue reading

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Handa Opera’s ‘Madama Butterly’ one night in cinemas

Sydney Opera Madama Butterfly x575

By Ray Bennett

CinemaLive said it will screen the Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour’s production of “Madama Butterfly” in cinemas across the UK and Ireland and around the world for one night only on Thursday Sept, 18. Continue reading

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Monty Python show set to be biggest for Event Cinema

Mick Jagger promotes Python show x575

By Ray Bennett

Picturehouse Entertainment said that its July 20 screening of “Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down, Five to Go” will be the biggest Event Cinema broadcast yet seen in the UK. Continue reading

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BFI to screen sci-fi spectacular at British Museum

British Museum BFI event x575

By Ray Bennett

The BFI has announced a sci-fi film spectacular called “Sci-fi: Days of Fear and Wonder” with classic titles to kick off in the grounds of the British Museum in London on the August bank holiday weekend. Continue reading

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Restored Orson Welles classic set for re-release

Park Circus 'The Lady From Shanghai' Cliff

By Ray Bennett

Park Circus said it will release Orson Welles’s classic 1947 film noir “The Lady From Shanghai” with a new 4K restoration in UK cinemas on July 25.

The exhibitor said the restored Sony Pictures title was “ripe for rediscovery on the big screen” following its world premiere at the 2013 London Film Festival. Continue reading

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