Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

The Importance of being Earnest

The Nonentities

The Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


Oscar Wilde’s final work had the subtitle of A trivial Comedy for serious People, but the staging of the play in 1895 was hardly trivial, it set in motion a chain of unrelated, yet serious, events that would see Wilde imprisoned, exiled to France and an end put to his glittering career.

The play is frequently revived yet in recent years has been reworked by professional companies who have often added heavy handed new interpretations to what plainly is a subtly and brilliantly written farce.

Thankfully there is no such tampering with the Nonentities version which is as crisply cut and bare of unnecessary filling as Lady Bracknell’s bread and butter only cucumber sandwiches.

The play centres on two young men, Algernon Moncrieff and John (Ernest) Worthing who separately have amused themselves by creating alter egos to move with ease across their social respective circles.

John (Ernest) is known as Jack (John) in his country estate and by the name Ernest when in London. He replies to either name with the other names as his brother, all depending on where he is residing at the time.

Algernon on the other hand has created an imaginary sick friend Bunbury. Bunbury’s frequent health relapses enable him to escape the boredom of family duties providing him with an ideal excuse for any absence. 

Ernest (John) tells Algernon of his pretty ward Cecily, whilst also telling him of his love and desire of marriage to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen. Algernon then decides to secretly visit Cecily in the country pretending to be Jack’s (Johns, Ernest’s) brother naming himself as Ernest for his deception.


In rehearsal: Joe Harper as Ernest, Judith Basset as her Ladyship . . . and that infamous handbag left at Victoria Station


When John (Jack, Ernest) arrives at the estate claiming his brother Ernest has passed away, he is forced to double back when Algernon is revealed and introduced as his deceased brother. Miraculously reconciled the pair enter into a complex and very funny deception to uphold their combined deceptions.

Joe Harper was perfectly cast as John Worthing and the precision and eloquence in his performance brought out every subtly in Wilde’s clever yet understated satire. Matched in his repartee by Alex Thompson as the flighty yet bored Algernon, the pair were a delight and handled their characters with real skill.

Gwendoline was played by Jessica Schneider and looked truly elegant in her dressed finery. There is a tendency for some to play Wildes characters as charactures but Miss Schneider was very real in her performance. Cecily was played by Rebecca Williams. Trapped in the country, Cecily has been reduced to invention herself, imagining her own engagement and writing her own love letters and Miss Williams handled the role with lightness and great timing.

The play has some great additional support characters. The pairing of Miss Prism, Cecily’s governess, played by Pat Gale with the local Vicar, Canon Chasuble, played by Patrick Bentley, was sweet and amusing as they innocently go about their awkward romance.

A powerhouse of clipped society womanhood came in the form of Judith Basset as Lady Bracknell who managed to roll her R's in sentences where there were none. Wildes biting observation on the upper classes boredom with anything that pertains to `ugly politics’, plays out through Lady Bracknell and the character was brought to life with great style and comic timing.

Fine support too came from Stanley Bartenas John’s laboured servant Merriman and Steven Bougourd  as Lane, the Butler. Stephen Downing’s set was pared back and minimal adding a touch of contempory style to the performances which helped frame the characters in the respective settings.

It’s remarkable that a play that is nearly 125 years old can still make you laugh and yet has such insight into the complexity of modern relationships. We may have replaced society with social media but now with most everyone trying to appear as someone else in some way for appearances sake, we possibly have not come that far.

This is a fine start to the Nonentities season and definitely a light and airy interlude to these dark winter days. Go and see it earnestly. To 02-02-19.

Jeff Grant


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