Tag Archives: Bryan Hodgson

The Importance of Being Earnest


Turbine Theatre

The Importance

The Importance of Being Earnest

Turbine Theatre

Reviewed – 20th February 2020



“packs in lots of entertaining elements but teeters dangerously on the brink of panto”


An entire cast stranded on a broken-down bus, the producer and stage-manager of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ must make a hasty decision, if the show is to go on. In an evening of quick changes, larger-than-life characters and bustling choreography, they helter-skelter through Oscar Wilde’s iconic parody of constrained Victorian morality. Jack and his friend Algernon have both invented imaginary counterparts, Ernest and Bunbury, to enable them to escape any unwelcome or tedious obligation. As their intentions for marriage intensify, their stories unravel and being Ernest appears to be of the utmost importance.

Written at a significant time in his life, just as his homosexuality was revealed and condemned, it is a deceptively flippant comment on the dual identity many people felt the need to live. London’s vibrant social scene with its clubs, hotels and theatres – not to mention the West End’s red-light district – would have been an irresistible, and therefore common, distraction for the English male aristocracy. Although marriage figures centrally as plot, debate and comment, the homosexual asides, ‘Ernest’, a euphemism for homosexual and ‘Cecily’, a reference to rent boys, are far from subtle. And this is reflected in the flamboyancy of the production which packs in lots of entertaining elements but teeters dangerously on the brink of panto.

Director, Bryan Hodgson, produces a lively build-up of pandemonium as the plot thickens and the denouement accelerates. There are interjections to remind us that the cast are still on their way, but they are inconsistent and aren’t always attuned to the script. The multi-tasking actors, Aidan Harkins and Ryan Bennett succeed in impressively dexterous costume changes which become gradually more frenetic and resourceful with the entanglement of the play. There is a strong repartee established in the opening scene between Jack and Algernon but subsequently the characterisation is less balanced. Harkins’ portrayals of Lady Bracknell and Miss Prism are perhaps unconventional, but are well defined and fit convivially into the world of innuendos. As his own Lady Bracknell, Bennett is suitably overblown, yet his Cecily lacks any real persona. Of course, the point is that they are standing in at the last minute, but there is no real coherence here either.

Technically sharp, Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner’s lighting accompanies the exaggerated scenarios and the sound (Harry Smith) adds to some odd and rousing moments with Verdi’s ‘Dies Irae’ summing up Lady Bracknell’s appearance and the farcical scampering around to Brahms’ Hungarian Dance. Denise Cleal’s costumes cleverly combine period style with practical quick- change needs.

Camp, in the very French literary sense that influenced Wilde, this effervescent version of his classic comedy of manners (subtitled by the writer as ‘A Trivial Comedy for Serious People’), piles comic melodrama, slapstick and caricature onto his intellectual farce, producing a colourful rumpus of a show with a fun finale. Perhaps not appealing to everyone’s taste in classical theatre but, judging by the standing ovation, popular with many.


Reviewed by Joanna Hetherington

Photography by John-Webb Carter


The Importance of Being Earnest

Turbine Theatre until 29th February


Previously reviewed at this venue:
Torch Song | ★★★★★ | September 2019
High Fidelity | ★★★★★ | November 2019


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Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

Union Theatre

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

Union Theatre

Reviewed – 18th May 2019



“Told in music and verse by the victims and culprits; the heroes and the cowards; the innocent and the culpable, the stories are heartfelt”


Originally titled “Quilt”, this is less a song cycle but more of a poetry reading inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, conceived in 1985 in San Francisco to commemorate the lives lost in the AIDS pandemic. With book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Janet Hood it attempts to show some of the sadness and horror that unfurled during the 1980s, but moreover the sense of community, hope and human spirit that always emerges from adversity. Which is what this outing at the Union Theatre brings to the fore. The impressive, sixteen-strong cast inject just the right amount of humour in order to quell the anger, and the result is a celebration rather than a rant.

Director Bryan Hodgson has set the production at the Memorial Quilt (which has since moved from San Francisco to Washington) and has the cast add their own panel to the tapestry on Justin Williams’ simple but effective square-box set as they each tell their story, so at the end of the show we have the full picture. It is a neat, personal touch that, while obviously not matching the scale, reflects the ongoing ideology. The Quilt itself is the largest piece of community art in the world, with each of the panels the size and dimension of a grave. Still growing, it receives at least one extra quilt panel per day.

Like the Quilt, this is a piece that lends itself to continued revision and, as was pointed out in the final rather ‘happy-clappy’ closing moments of the show, the aftermath is still with us. Until that moment, the richness of the evening was intact, held together by the rich thread of the vignettes. Told in music and verse by the victims and culprits; the heroes and the cowards; the innocent and the culpable, the stories are heartfelt. To slip into a kind of evangelism slightly spoils the effect. It is always a challenge to get the balance right with this sort of theatre, where the message is as important as the means.

The cast members are all skilled hands at this balancing act; measuring out the moments of comedy with the right blend of darkness, and knowing when to ask us to take things seriously or whether just to delight us with a skilled offhand observation. Sometimes the sincerity of the performances were at odds with the slick, stylised lighting (Alex Musgrave) and sound design (Henry Brennan), but the commitment of the actors outshone these quibbles, and their belief in the material manages to rescue the show when it steers too close to sentimentality.

After all, they are here to celebrate, not mourn. And Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens at the Union does just that.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Mark Senior PR


Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens

Union Theatre until 8th June


Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Twang!! | ★★★★ | April 2018
H.R.Haitch | ★★★★ | May 2018
It’s Only Life | ★★★★ | June 2018
Around the World in Eighty Days | ★★★ | August 2018
Midnight | ★★★★★ | September 2018
Brass | ★★★★ | November 2018
Striking 12 | ★★★★ | December 2018
An Enemy of the People | ★★ | January 2019
Can-Can! | ★★★★ | February 2019
Othello | ★★★★ | March 2019


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