Tag Archives: Rachael Ryan

Th'Importance of Bein' Earnest

Th’Importance of Bein’ Earnest
★★★

Drayton Arms Theatre

ThImportance of Bein Earnest

Th’Importance of Bein’ Earnest

Drayton Arms Theatre

Reviewed – 21st February 2019

★★★

 

“Though it may be a bit rough, this show is the sort of creative flare that keeps London theatre exciting”

 

Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a comedy of manners set in London during the 1890s. In their adaptation, LKT Productions have jumped the play one hundred years forward and two hundred miles north, to a York council estate in the 1990s. It’s the same playtext transposed to a world completely opposite to the one it was intended for.

Placing words meant for Victorian aristocrats in modern working-class mouths is a fascinating experiment by directors Luke Adamson and Toby Hampton. Whether it works or not is debatable. On the one hand, hearing Wilde’s grandiose lines in northern accents was fresh and fun. Designer Rachael Ryan has done first-rate work creating an aesthetic completely counter to the original: the set involves graffitied walls and plastic patio furniture. The kiddie pool is a great touch. The costumes feature animal prints, gold leggings, bum bags, and very large hoop earrings.

On the other hand, most of the play doesn’t make sense in a working-class scenario. Wilde’s play is specifically, explicitly, a satire of upper-class society. Adamson and Hampton make slight alterations in attempt to adjust the context, but they’re fighting the script at every turn. A clever choice to make ‘cucumber sandwiches’ slang for cocaine saves one particular exchange. A few word substitutions (e.g. bus stop instead of carriage) save others. But ultimately it’s a losing fight. The servants don’t make sense – the attempt to pass them off as flatmates doesn’t work. Jokes about dinner parties don’t fit. The fact that Gwendolyn’s parents are ‘Lord’ and ‘Lady’ is something the production seems to shrug at. The play is caught between a genuine desire for its characters to be working class, and surrendering to an alternate universe where lords and ladies wear joggers and speak in thick Yorkshire accents.

Despite the muddled world, the characters themselves relocate surprisingly well to a council estate. Heather Dutton as Gwendolyn and Millie Gaston as Cecily shine in particular. Translating the refined but fierce Gwendolyn to Dutton’s ‘won’t-take-shit’, ‘will-fight-you’ Gwendolyn works brilliantly. Gaston, in scrunchie and tracksuit, wonderfully brings out the snarky teenager in Cecily. There’s a lot that’s really smart about this wild reimagining.

The comedy though wasn’t quite at standard. I’ve witnessed certain lines take down the house in previous performances that simply passed by in this one. Lady Bracknell (Kitty Martin) has some of the funniest lines in the play, but many of them failed to land. There’s also an unfortunate choice to keep Lane and Merriman (both James King) in the scenes as silent background comedy. King’s physical jokes distract from the words, which is a shame, because King stuffing newspaper in his ears will never be as funny as Wilde’s lines.

LKT deserve all the props for their boldness in turning Wilde’s classic upside-down. Though it may be a bit rough, this show is the sort of creative flare that keeps London theatre exciting.

 

Reviewed by Addison Waite

Photography by Cam Harle

 

Drayton Arms Theatre

Th’Importance of Bein’ Earnest

Drayton Arms Theatre until 23rd February

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Are There Female Gorillas? | ★★★★ | April 2018
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee | ★★★★ | May 2018
No Leaves on my Precious Self | ★★ | July 2018
The Beautiful Game | ★★★ | August 2018
Baby | ★★ | October 2018
Jake | ★★★ | October 2018
Love, Genius and a Walk | | October 2018
Boujie | ★★★½ | November 2018
Out of Step | ★★ | January 2019
The Problem With Fletcher Mott | ★★★ | February 2019

 

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

 

The Ruffian on the Stair

The Ruffian on the Stair
★★★★

Hope Theatre

The Ruffian on the Stair

The Ruffian on the Stair

Hope Theatre

Reviewed – 31st January 2019

★★★★

 

“Orton’s words are still able to provoke the same levels of intrigue, laughter, and sympathy today that they did fifty years ago”

 

The Ruffian on the Stair gave notorious playwright, author, and library book defacer Joe Orton his first success. Today, it is rarely performed and somewhat obscured by his later work. And, whilst the play may be very much of its time, The Hope Theatre’s new production shows that his unique style of black comedy is as funny today as it was fifty years ago.

Mike (Gary Webster) was a promising young boxer – but what he does now is shrouded in mystery. All we know is that it involves a van and the attendance of meetings that will help him get “jobs”. His wife, Joyce (Lucy Benjamin), is a former prostitute who spends all day at home in the couple’s London flat. Their solitary existence is disrupted by the sudden arrival of Wilson (Adam Buchanan), a young man whose quest to rent a room devolves into a sinister plot to undermine their safety and exact a bizarre kind of revenge.

None of this sounds especially funny. But Orton’s singular style allows him to conjure a vaguely absurd version of real life that is both comic and tragic. For the most part, director Paul Clayton is able to draw out the many layers of irony to great effect. There are occasional moments where this feels heavy-handed, but it doesn’t seriously impact our investment in the story. It helps that the set (designed by Rachael Ryan) has an intimate, claustrophobic feel, with some audience members practically sitting in Mike and Joyce’s kitchen. Such close proximity keeps us engaged even when the pace slows down.

The three actors create multidimensional, sympathetic characters. Lucy Benjamin’s Joyce is both comically naïve and desperately afraid. Her excitement at the fact that her husband is meeting someone in an ‘exciting place’ like a toilet at King’s Cross station is balanced by her frustration at his refusal to acknowledge her anxiety. Gary Webster brings depth to thuggish Mike, balancing his cold-heartedness with a distinct sense of vulnerability. Webster and Benjamin have great chemistry: their performances suggest a couple whose love for each other has been corrupted by fear. Of the three, Adam Buchanan’s performance as Wilson is the most striking. He has the perfect mix of deceptive innocence and mild antagonism, and is able to switch from deadpan irony to sinister psychosis in seconds.

Whilst it is unlikely that The Ruffian on the Stair will ever be as popular as Loot or What the Butler Saw, The Hope Theatre’s production proves its worth as a piece of theatre. Orton’s words are still able to provoke the same levels of intrigue, laughter, and sympathy today that they did fifty years ago.

Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by  Anthony Orme

 


The Ruffian on the Stair

Hope Theatre until 16th February

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Cockamamy | ★★★★ | June 2018
Fat Jewels | ★★★★★ | July 2018
Medicine | ★★★ | August 2018
The Dog / The Cat | ★★★★★ | September 2018
The Lesson | ★★★★ | September 2018
Jericho’s Rose | ★★★½ | October 2018
Gilded Butterflies | ★★ | November 2018
Head-rot Holiday | ★★★★ | November 2018
Alternativity | ★★★★ | December 2018
In Conversation With Graham Norton | ★★★ | January 2019

 

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