Algernon (Philip Cumbus) and Ernest (Michael Benz) are best friends and Earnest is even about to propose to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (Emily Barber), despite the fact that Gwendolen’s mother, the surly Augusta (David Suchet) is not too fond of him. But that proposal puts him in a tight spot as he’s been lying to everyone in the city. His actual name is John – Ernest is a brother he invented to have a persona that he can live it up in while none of his misdeeds make it back to his ward Cecily (Imogen Doel) who lives in the country. When John confesses this to Algernon, Algernon finds the idea ingenious and decides to use it himself. Without John’s knowledge he travels to the country and introduces himself as Ernest to Cecily. Having grown up with stories about the wild Ernest, Cecily is more than intrigued by his surprise appearance.
It’s hard to go wrong with a Wilde play and this production of The Importance of Being Earnest mostly goes very right indeed.
Oscar Wilde was a funny writer and The Importance of Being Earnest is full proof of that. Full of epitaphs and witticisms, Noble used the great text basis to make a hilarious play with a very nice, traditional set-design and costumes. Both fit the mood very nicely.
But in the middle of this generally good production is Philip Cumbus who outshines it all. He was already one of the best things in the excellent Macbeth production, but with his performance in The Importance of Being Earnest he just cements the proof of his perfect comedic timing. He, and with him Algernon, owns that play. Next to him, the rest of the cast practically vanishes.
All but David Suchet that is. Suchet has quite a presence on stage, but I have to admit that I wasn’t particularly happy with his Aunt Augusta. To me it felt way too much like a man playing a woman instead of Augusta being an actual character who happens to be female while the actor is not. Every second movement seemed to happen to show Augusta’s femininity but in the end it just served to emphasize Suchet’s masculinity.
But that was only a small thing in a production I otherwise enjoyed a whole lot. So much so that I considered seeing it a second time when I was in London a few weeks later. I didn’t, but I was tempted and that’s only partly to do with Cumbus. I swear.