Tag Archives: Amy Jane Cook

The Importance of Being Earnest

Watermill Theatre

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

The Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 27th May 2019



“an inventive new take on an old favourite”


Should we care about ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’? Oscar Wilde’s best-known play about misplaced identities was written at the height of his fame. His brilliant wit shines in every scene and the piece features that line about a piece of left luggage that is probably as much quoted as ‘to be or not to be’.

The Watermill’s new production partly attempts to prove its relevance by setting the play in a contemporary apartment, which is all dull grey minimalism, and in the opening scene, decorated with a road traffic cone. It’s the kind of achingly trendy place that’s all concealed doors and cupboards, with a big Morris wallpaper feature wall, which in Sally Ferguson’s lighting design is cleverly lit to match the mood. At the start of the play the set seemed simply incongruous, lacking the glitz that might be expected of a London socialite’s pad. Weirdly, the cups are paper and the plates foil, a kind of knowing send-up that seemed just odd in the first half, but made perfect sense in the second when the play takes a surreal turn. The almost empty apartment does however come complete with a fully-liveried butler, played with glassy-eyed determination by the impressive Morgan Philpott. He begins and ends the show, as well as sustaining a crowd-pleasingly clever running gag throughout it that calls for the most impeccable timing.

So the scene is set for an inventive new take on an old favourite, as much beloved of amateur productions as it is of countless high profile cinema and stage versions. The lead, Algernon, is played by a splendidly gangling Peter Bray (RSC and the Globe). Wilde seems to have put most of himself into this ‘Bunburying’ young fop who gets some of the best lines. Bray more than rises to the challenge. As Jack, Benedict Salter is also excellent. In a splendid piece of direction by the very inventive Kate Budgen, Bray and Salter perform a kind of mad pas-de-deux to a Liszt piano concerto in a scene about muffins. ‘I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them’. Much has been written about the gay sub-text, in a play which was written when to be ‘earnest’ was to be gay. What with the Bunburying and cucumbers for ready money, it certainly doesn’t lack in innuendo, and this was nicely handled in this production.

Both young men and their female opposite numbers, Gwendolen (Claudia Jolly) and Cecily (Charlotte Beaumont), are splendidly dressed in period costumes. Wilde’s young women may be trapped in a suffocating Victorian system where a woman’s marriage is more about money than love, but his characters shine in these interpretations. Charlotte Beaumont in particular has a kind of winningly mad insistence, that in the second half almost took the play into Lewis Carroll territory.

And what of Lady Bracknell’s ‘handbag’ line, so famously delivered with ringing disdain by Edith Evans, then whispered by Maggie Smith in a role also played by Judi Dench and even David Suchet? Connie Walker certainly brings the ‘gorgon’ to life in her commanding interpretation. Wendy Nottingham makes a suitably dowdy Miss Prism, and Jim Creighton is a satisfying Dr Chasuble.

‘To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of modern life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution’. Just for lines like this, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is more than worth the price of a ticket. This fresh and inventive new production at the Watermill makes it more than doubly so.


Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Philip Tull


The Importance of Being Earnest

The Watermill Theatre until 29th June



The Watermill Theatre – winner of our 2018 Awards – Best Regional Theatre


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
The Rivals | ★★★★★ | March 2018
Burke & Hare | ★★★★ | April 2018
A Midsummer Night’s Dream | ★★★★ | May 2018
Jerusalem | ★★★★★ | June 2018
Trial by Laughter | ★★★★ | September 2018
Jane Eyre | ★★★★ | October 2018
Robin Hood | ★★★★ | December 2018
Murder For Two | ★★★★ | February 2019
Macbeth | ★★★ | March 2019
Amélie | ★★★★★ | April 2019


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com


Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)

Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)

VAULT Festival

Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)

Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)

The Vaults

Reviewed – 31st January 2019



“the delivery and the performances of these dynamic character actors certainly make you stand up and listen”


“If you were affected by any of the issues raised in this programme…” is such a common tagline on our television screens nowadays, that most people have become inured to it. A quick surf online shows that where there is still a reaction to the announcements, they are usually ones of annoyance at their ‘Nanny-State’ superficiality. Understandable perhaps, but unfair and unreasonable. In reality, these helplines do have a significant impact in encouraging people to seek help for a wide range of problems.

“Silent Uproar” adopt the same sense of responsibility by exit flyering their show “A Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)” with details of where to get support for those struggling with mental health. The award-winning company makes theatre to “make the world a little less shit”. Maybe not the most highbrow tagline, but it is true to their playfully honest approach. And it also helps sweep away the preconception that a musical about depression is going to make for a pretty cheerless evening. “A Super Happy Story…” is anything but cheerless. Written by Jon Brittain with music by Matthew Floyd Jones, it is an uplifting and insightful cabaret about a young woman’s fight with depression.

Sally (played by Madeleine MacMahon) is “fine”, as she repeatedly tells everybody (Sophie Clay and Ed Yelland – impressively playing a diverse roll call of all the other characters). MacMahon brilliantly encapsulates the manic over insistence on having a good time with which Sally embarks on her journey. It begins with denial, then runs the gauntlet of anger, bargaining and acceptance after which she gets better. We think the show is reaching a natural happy ending. But then we are harshly reminded that every silver lining has its own black cloud.

It’s not a ground-breaking message, but the delivery and the performances of these dynamic character actors certainly make you stand up and listen. Clay and Yelland, as Sally’s best friend, boss, mother, boyfriend and much more, are hilarious. Yet they also manage to convey the minefield one needs to navigate when treading the path towards recovery. They understand completely the notion that if you can amuse an audience, you will find that they are far more receptive to what you have to say. The show packs a powerful punch while making you laugh out loud.

The songs slot into the action like interludes between the chapters of Sally’s life, with tight harmonies accompanied by a lone pianist to the side of the stage (it is unclear, though, whether this is Floyd Jones himself or Tom Penn, the credited touring MD). Again, the juxtaposition of upbeat melodies with weighty words shrouds the educational aspects of the show in entertainment.

Depression often feeds on being ignored, which is part of the crux of Sally’s story. This is a show that cannot, and must not be ignored. It is heartfelt and rings absolutely true. Depression might never really go away but, as Sally ultimately declares; “I’m not bad. And not bad feels pretty damn good.”

Nobody can accuse this show of merely being ‘not bad’. I’d say it’s ‘pretty damn good’.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography courtesy Silent Uproar


Vault Festival 2019

Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad)

Part of VAULT Festival 2019




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