"The Importance of Being Earnest" Review - Edinburgh University Theatre Company

The Importance of Being Earnest
Credit: Bronwen Jones and Georgie Carey


This review was originally written by me, Lewis Forman, for LOAF Magazine.

I was not expecting "The Importance of Being Earnest" to be my type of play, but I was blown out of the water by this farcical comedy. With a script heavily relying on dramatic irony, it makes for good laughs, but the true strengths of this play lie in the perfect casting and expert direction by Kirsten Millar.

Fergus Head plays a very strong lead as Algernon, taking control of the scene whenever he is on stage. Both of the main characters tell a lot of lies, but there is something about Head's performance that makes you giggle so much as he tells all of these lies and pulls off his tricks. His facial expressions are also a highlight, as he reacts on the verge of cartoonishly, to the events happening onstage.

Gordon Stackhouse is at his best when he is making jokes. As Jack, his comic timing is impeccable, and every movement he makes and word he says is so perfectly rehearsed that you become entirely immersed in his performance. Particular highlights include his angry/frustrated face, which was so unbelievably red that I don't know how he managed it.

Áine Higgins stands out not only for the best and most convincing accent in the show despite being Northern Irish, but also for such a captivating performance in her character that you forget that you are watching a play rather than looking at a real person. Her love for Stackhouse's Jack is most convincing, and you end up very much rooting for their relationship, right up until (just before) the end of the play.

Georgie Carey's Cecily is the perfect complement to Head's Algernon. Naive, innocent and gullible are all the character traits necessary for a character to be emotionally manipulated by Algernon, and Carey comes across as all of these things, whilst still being a strong female icon. Whilst initally fooled, her later character traits as she overcomes the web of lies constructed by the two male leads make for a deep character with a lot more to unpack than the surface level of her character.

Ishbel McLachlan has such commandeering stage presence as Lady Bracknell, that if it weren't for how great the rest of the cast were, you probably wouldn't know they were there in scenes featuring Lady Bracknell. The particular highlights of this performance were less in the actual jokes, but the thing that made this portrayal of such an iconic character so perfect was McLachlan's tone of voice, perfectly crafted on every line, making the audience laugh all the time, and not just at the jokes pre-written in the script.

Megan Lambie plays the smaller role of Miss Prism, but her performance is just as incredible as the other actors. Her big moment comes at the climax of the story, so I won't say much about that, just that despite having a minor role throughout the main body of the show, the character is convincing enough to actually be the catalyst that wraps up the plot, and it feels completely earned. Dom Myers is so well cast as Reverend Chausable. Once again, the accent used here is so perfect and convincing for the role, and his chemistry with the aforementioned Lambie is electric for such a short time on stage together.

Finally, Patrick Hall playing both Merriman and Lane was a very clever artistic decision here. It really solidified this cast as a tight-knit group, as at eight members, it was very close to being a big cast, so keeping the cast as small as possible made the show feel much more personal. Hall's two characters have two distinct personalities and costumes, and his acting ability is more than convincing enough to let the audience know that he is playing a different character in the second act within a few seconds of him coming onto the stage.

As I said in my introduction, the direction is what takes this play from great to incredible. The visual gags are very often better than the scripted jokes, and really strongly show that Millar not only had an understanding of the show, but is a complete expert in visual comedy. Whilst I've complimented the actors for their accents, tone and comedic timing this does of course come down to the director, and Millar, assisted by Anna Phillips, pulled this off so brilliantly.

Whilst the tech was very simple, mostly involving a few different washes for different scenes, and a couple of songs, but this was all the play needed. On the other side of the coin, the set was a sight to behold, as expected for the highest budget Bedlam show of the year. Traditional theatre-style curtains have been installed in Bedlam, as well as a hinged main set, that changes dramatically twice throughout the show, with the use of 2 short intervals to pass this time. The set is stunning, and is yet another reason to visit Bedlam this week.

Overall, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is definitely not a show to miss. It was almost impossible to fault, and everything moves with the pacing and expertise of any professional West End show. Kirsten Millar has created something incredible here, and after the success of recent shows at Bedlam, my standards were not only high for this, but completely surpassed by the actual production.

Verdict: ★★★★★

"The Importance of Being Earnest" runs until 29th February at Bedlam Theatre.

Tickets: https://www.eusa.ed.ac.uk/events/10188/15045/

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