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Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, Red Rose Chgain, The Avenue Theatre, until April 9

PUBLISHED: 14:13 25 March 2017 | UPDATED: 14:13 25 March 2017

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, staged by red Rose Chain at The Avenue Theatre, Ipswich. Picture: BILL JACKSON

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, staged by red Rose Chain at The Avenue Theatre, Ipswich. Picture: BILL JACKSON

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Red Red Chain presents a definitely not to be missed, original and fabulously funny production of the Wilde comedy classic.

Gwendolen (Leonie Spilsbury) and Jack Worthing (Lawrence Russell) in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, staged by red Rose Chain at The Avenue Theatre, Ipswich. Picture: BILL JACKSONGwendolen (Leonie Spilsbury) and Jack Worthing (Lawrence Russell) in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, staged by red Rose Chain at The Avenue Theatre, Ipswich. Picture: BILL JACKSON

After years of the patronising, fantasy upstairs downstairs world of Downton Abbey, Wilde’s satire on the upper classes still has real bite to it and is a real breath of fresh air. Merriman, the stoic butler, is placed at the heart of the piece. The play within a play is his story, set in the 1960s. Merriman, poignantly, struggles to understand the modern world, however his recall of his younger self and characters he served is vivid and comes to life with energy, verve and colour.

We are placed in the round, the audience is clearly lit, making the many asides intimate and suddenly these characters from a play feel almost human. Merriman’s memories hang on copper wires, his past represented by old black and white photographs and his present by record covers. It is a comment on the nature of growing old that the past and present although together seem to be realised as physically apart.

Every character in this production is spot on. Jo Carrick directs the pace exquisitely. Each pause and aside is so carefully timed and not one laugh is thrown. Jo as Lady Bracknell herself delivers a hugely controlled and finely balanced performance. Her daughter, Gwendoline (Leonie Spilsbury), is a hilarious, formidable mirror image of her mother, but Earnest/John (Lawrence Russell) can’t quite see it. The chemistry between the four ‘lovers’ is delightful. Joanna Sawyer as Cecily Cardew is sublimely nuanced as she reveals her fantasy engagement to the fantasy Earnest. The rhythm and musicality of the exchange between her and Laurence Pears (Algernon/Earnest) in this moment is simply perfect.

A highly recommended production.

Jackie Montague

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