“A slick, professional and compelling night of laughter and Wildean witticisms…

Thursday the 30th of November marked the opening night of the Bailey Theatre Company’s Michaelmas production, Oscar Wilde’s iconic ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. The Old Library at St John’s College sets the scene for the night’s ebullient entertainment. Shrouds of shadow, spotlights, and other subtle lighting lend form to the stage, where a late Victorian drawing room plays host to our actors and actresses. The setting is somewhat plain but thoughtfully designed. The assorted minutiae of domestic life are assembled to create a tasteful mirage of the Victorian era.

Directed by Victoria Travers and Raaga Jain, I’d had some reservations after BTC struggled to cast the male lead, Jack Worthing (Ernest) – leading to Travers stepping in to play him at the eleventh hour. However, the production is wonderfully smooth, without even a hint of its tumultuous backstory. The show moves with real poetry between each enchanting scene, the actors’ performances slick and delivered effortlessly.

The play opens on Algernon, played excellently by Tommy Skinner. At one unfortunate, off-script moment early on in the production, Skinner sends a teapot flying and it smashes on the rug. He handles it expertly, adlibbing with such fluency that the spell of characterisation never breaks – truly a masterclass in professionalism under pressure. Our Algernon then proceeds to spend the remainder of the play eating muffins with such comedic timing and brilliant authenticity that Wilde himself would be proud.

Also outstanding is Scout Pemberton, who plays Lady Bracknell. Authoritative and dictatorial as the oppressive mother to Gwendolen (played by Madelaine Frank), Pemberton commands the stage every time they stride onto it.

Nick Lemieux demonstrates his acting fluidity by successfully holding down two divergent roles, initially channelling Mr Stevens in The Remains of the Day with an exquisite rendition of the reserved English butler Lane, followed by an innuendo-laced stint as Reverend Chasable, embodying Fleabag’s ‘Hot Priest’ perfectly.

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is famous for its expressive humour. In this production each line is delivered with perfect timing, the audience bursting into successive flourishes of laughter and applause throughout. Travers’ rendition of Ernest is deeply sympathetic and wonderfully infuriating in equal measure. Indeed, Travers especially knows how to manipulate timing for the greatest effect, never missing a beat in their sublime comic delivery.

Altogether this is a slick, professional and compelling night of laughter and Wildean witticisms, each cutting line delivered with resplendent zeal. This is certainly not a performance to miss.

By Dan Bavister

The Importance of Being Earnest will continue to show at 19:30 in the Old Library, St. John’s College, South Bailey, DH1 3RJ on Friday and Saturday the 1st and 2nd of December

Photo Credits: Bailey Theatre Company