Ella Al-Khalil Coyle enjoys Foot of the Hill Theatre Company’s production of an Oscar Wilde classic, The Importance of Being Earnest.

This is not one to be missed – from the very first minute this show is everything it should be. Foot of the Hill’s The Importance of Bening Earnest cast, under the direction of Alice Bridge, deliver an outrageously hilarious, completely improbable and entirely serious play, capturing the absurdity of Wilde’s words without making the plot entirely incomprehensible.

When I say the show is compelling from the first minute, I mean it; as if it were scripted, Lane the butler (Keir Mulcahey) is setting the first scene as two unfortunate late-comers had to walk (across the ‘stage’) to their seats and, wasting no opportunity, Mulcahey, as a disgusted and disgruntled Lane, glares at them as they walk and, with the first of many laughs, the show was underway. Cue the entrance of Ben Smart as Algernon, who portrayed the essence of a typical Wilde character, bringing an energy to even the most eccentric and quotable lines. In the opening scenes he is addictive to watch on stage and I almost sympathised with the milder portrayal of Jack (Luke Skinner) in comparison. With Algernon as such a dominating presence I became worried we’d start to lose Jack, who seemed unexpectedly frantic and uncertain. It was soon clear this was not the case; it took him a moment to relax but Skinner’s understanding of the comedic timing, script and audience (not to mention his hysterical facial expressions) were nothing short of brilliant and really shone towards the end of Act 1 and beginning of Act 2. That said, I do wish there’d been more confidence and self-assuredness in Jack, particularly in the second half, as it made the final scene feel slightly disjointed from his character.

Beyond Lane and the ‘Earnests’, every member of this cast impressively has a truly distinct and memorable presence, from the butler to the bunburyist, which I can assume is largely attributed to intelligent casting and thoughtful rehearsal on Bridge’s part. Ella Blaxill was a real standout with how effortlessly she captured Gwendolen’s controlling and domineering personality without being anything less than the perfect Victorian lady. It became even more interesting to watch when contrasted and complimented against Lowri Mathias’ much younger and more impressionable, yet equally manipulative Cecily. Their chemistry together was a highlight of the second act, rivalled only by that of the ever judgemental Miss Prism (Anne-Marie Garrett) and utterly confused Reverend Chasuble (Charlie Howe). Ruth Louis’ Lady Bracknell was iconic and hilarious, as the character should be, her mannerisms, voice and expressions being particularly noteworthy, though the portrayal of her character was also rather expected and seemed as though it needed something unpredicted or deeper, to propel the comedy that bit further.

The production elements themselves were minimal, which is somewhat unavoidable in the space (Kenworthy Hall, St Mary’s College), but did allow the primary focus to be on the play. Furthermore, what was there felt intentional. The lighting was clear and effective (although a scene-change blackout or two did provoke the inevitable, awkward ‘do we clap?’ audience response) and though the sound effects were, at times, unfortunately blunt or obviously recorded, some, particularly the garden noises, added another subtle, yet effective, dimension to the play. Additionally, the costume design, by Monica Jones, was especially impressive and attended to any atmospheric concerns a lack of extensive set created. 

Being the first night, there was a slight roughness to the production, and being Wilde, there were some difficulties with lines but the cast handled it incredibly and ultimately it was clear they were having fun, which meant the audience did as well, and really, that’s how theatre should feel.

The Importance of being Earnest will play at Kenworthy Hall, St Mary’s College, on 18th November at 7:30pm.

Image: Foot of the Hill Theatre Company