Tag Archives: Tabard Theatre

The Importance of Being Earnest
★★★★

Tabard Theatre

Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest

Tabard Theatre

Reviewed – 9th June 2019

★★★★

 

“it is ultimately the cast’s joyful delivery that decorates this production with festoons of colour”

 

Despite the initial success of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest”, its opening coincidentally marked his fall from grace at the height of his career. Wilde would write no further comic or dramatic work and his notoriety caused the West End premiere to be pulled. Even the ensuing Broadway run closed after just sixteen performances. It is a sad paradox that mirrors those firmly embedded in his writing but, fortunately for theatre audiences worldwide, the play survived and has stood the test of time; to become what has been described as “the second most known and quoted play in English after Hamlet”.

This familiarity can be a curse as well as a blessing for directors. David Phipps-Davis’ production at the Tabard Theatre, however, certainly falls into the latter with its lovingly faithful and light-hearted joyride through the lives and double lives of these mischievous characters. Yes, we may be on very safe ground, but the cast of eight keep us on high alert throughout with their expertly subtle handling of the text. Nothing seems overplayed, which allows space for the nonsense and illogicality to leap out of the dialogue.

The bizarre plot ridicules Victorian sensibilities, but here, set three decades later in the twenties, it loses none of the punch. It is the story of two bachelors, John ‘Jack’ Worthington and Algernon ‘Algy’ Moncrieff, who create alter egos named Ernest to escape their tiresome lives. Attempting to win the hearts of two women, the pair struggle to keep up with their own stories and become tangled in a tale of deception, disguise and misadventure.

Samuel Oakes as ‘Algy’ and Tim Gibson as ‘Jack’ have a natural onstage chemistry, bouncing off each other while pitching the dialogue with the ease of a juggler. Throwing their lines into the air, they never let any of them drop. Lady Bracknell is similarly natural, played with a welcome understatement by Non Vaughan-O’Hagan who neatly highlights the snobbery and materialism without resorting to caricature. Melissa Knighton captures the curt crispness of Gwendolen’s unassailable pretension in a strong professional debut performance. Kirsty Jackson occasionally slips into jarring histrionics as the hopeless romantic, Cecily, but otherwise endears us to her mad-as-a-hatter waywardness. Jo Ashe sparkles as her governess, Miss Prism, refreshingly unveiling a softer side with flirtatious asides that belie the prudish veneer. The apple of her eye is Canon Chasuble, played by Dean Harris who never fails to put a smile on your face when he wanders, bumbling, onto the stage. And to cap it all Paul Foulds gives a star turn as the valet, the butler, the gardener, the chauffeur and Mr Gribsby – the solicitor who turns up to arrest Algernon for unpaid hotel bills – a ‘lost’ character reinstated by Phipps-Davis from an early draft of the script.

Lacking the darker undertones of Wilde’s earlier work, this interpretation is playful and stylised but measured out strictly within the confines of respectability. While Leah Sams’ costumes are as colourful as the language, the inbuilt irreverence sometimes appears monochrome. But it is ultimately the cast’s joyful delivery that decorates this production with festoons of colour.

 

Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Andreas Grieger

 


The Importance of Being Earnest

Tabard Theatre until 23rd June

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Lady With a Dog | ★★★★ | March 2018
Sophie, Ben, and Other Problems | ★★★★ | April 2018
Sirens of the Silver Screen | ★★★ | June 2018
Sexy Laundry | ★★★ | November 2018
Carl’s Story | ★★★★ | March 2019
Harper Regan | ★★★★ | May 2019

 

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

 

Harper Regan
★★★★

Tabard Theatre

Harper Regan

Harper Regan

Tabard Theatre

Reviewed – 22nd May 2019

★★★★

 

“these actors ensure Stephens’ wordy script continues to punch above its weight”

 

Simon Stephens is one of the great contemporary British playwrights. By no stretch his best play, ‘Harper Regan’ remains a timely and touching work fully deserving of a revival eleven years after it first premiered at the National Theatre. Presented by Contentment Productions, set up to redress the balance towards 50:50 equal representation for female actors, and directed by Pollyanna Newcombe, this is a powerful female-led production that moves as much as it shocks.

Harper (Emmy Happisburgh) is on a journey to see her dying father one last time before he passes away. Abandoning her husband (Cameron Robertson), daughter (Bea Watson) and day job (under Philip Gill’s creepy manager), she flies from Uxbridge to Stockport, meeting 17-year-old Tobias (Joseph Langdon), drunken flirt Mickey Nestor (Marcus McManus) and her disappointed mother (Alma Reising) along the way. Harper’s is a story of renewal, self-discovery, and the power of the painful truth.

Leading the charge in practically every scene, Happisburgh is mesmerising as Harper, imbuing the character with a hint of Northern edge and dash of vulnerability in equal measure. Her energy and presence are matched by a strong ensemble, but McManus’ leering Mickey stands out as a compelling mix of Ryan Gosling and that creepy guy sat in the corner of Wetherspoons whistling at women (NB: maybe this is only something I’ve experienced…). Newcombe’s direction places emphasis on the relationships and conflicts between characters, and these are well handled by the cast. For me, Stephens script needs a bit of a trim, and the actors should feel free to roam a bit more – this production felt very still. That said, these actors ensure Stephens’ wordy script continues to punch above its weight.

The contemporary set of gauze flats and well-chosen location indicators keeps the production design simple but effective, and allows for some cool lighting transitions. Scene changes are expertly choreographed and often come as a gasp-inducing shock to the Tabard audience. Why can’t all scene changes in theatre be as interesting to watch as these?

A punchy drama of redemption, ‘Harper Regan’ is a real Northern Powerhouse of a play, and this is astounding work from a cast that will only get better as the run continues and they learn to sit more comfortably in their intriguing and nuanced characters.

 

Reviewed by Joseph Prestwich

Photography by Rob Youngson

 


Harper Regan

Tabard Theatre until 1st June

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Lady With a Dog | ★★★★ | March 2018
Sophie, Ben, and Other Problems | ★★★★ | April 2018
Sirens of the Silver Screen | ★★★ | June 2018
Sexy Laundry | ★★★ | November 2018
Carl’s Story | ★★★★ | March 2019

 

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