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

Earnest and ALgernon

Simon Baker as John Worthing and Jack Hobbis as Algernon Moncrief, men about town . . . and different men about country . . .

The Importance of Being Earnest

Highbury Theatre Centre


OSCAR Wilde’s wickedly observed satire of late Victorian social mores is so well known that performance has become more important than the production.

We know the story, the delicious wit, the characters and the much loved scenes which all make it a favourite play and the reason many are in the audience in the first place – so the only unknown, the only mystery, is how well it is performed and in this case Highbury have done a simply splendid job.

Jack Hobbis and Simon Baker as the eligible young men about town, Algernon Moncrieff and Jack Worthing, are quite superb, the best pairing I have seen for some time with Hobbis’s Algernon managing to give the impression the whole of life is an amusing adventure while Baker’s Jack has a more serious, more pained air.

Both have some wonderful looks and glances to animate their characters in their troubles with both Lady Bracknell and her niece Gwendolen and Jack’s ward Cecily as the their comfortable, bachelor lifestyles both real and fictitious, start to unravel.

Country landowner John Worthing, known as Jack, has invented a brother, Earnest, who gets into terrible scrapes necessitating him going to London regularly to sort things out where, in London, as Earnest, he is friends with Algernon, who in turn, has invented a friend, Bunbury, who lives permanently at death’s door, requiring regular visits which allows him to escape to the country. Both were created to avoid social obligations and both, like tiresome chickens, are coming home to roost.

When Earnest, who is really Jack, falls for Gwendolen and Algernon discovers and, pretending to be Earnest, then falls in love with Cecily trouble follows as sure a night follows day.


Izzy Richard’s Gwendolen is a forceful headstrong young woman, who seems more than capable of taking on Lady Bracknell while Liz Adnitt’s Cecily is at first demure but, encouraged by the excitement of a visit by the wicked Earnest she becomes an ally in the sisterhood’s pursuit of love, or perhaps more accurately, marriage, with the powerful Gwendolen.

Sharon Clayton’s Lady Augusta Bracknell is less haughty, less arrogant than many portrayals although she still manages to flex her social muscles when things are not going her way – her way of course being the only way with anything else being . . . well wrong. Many of her lines are so well known that the laughs are there before the line has finished. As soon as she said “To lose one parent….” the titters of anticipation started.

Part of Wilde’s skill is starting with a collection of disparate threads and slowly pulling them together thus we have Miss Laetitia Prism, the prim and proper governess played by Sandra Haynes. Prism is an unfulfilled romantic of a spinster, a dreamer with many more years behind her than ahead, hopelessly in love with the country priest.

Had she been in her late 20s she could have found herself in a romantic novel by a Brontë or an Austen, as it is she has carried the burden of the terrible secret - the key to the whole play  -for some 30 years.

Beneath the cloak of respectability between Miss Prism and her priest, Canon Chasuble, there is a hint of repressed, dare we say it, lust. Rob Alexander’s unmarried man of the cloth is a little absent minded, unworldly and obviously clever, albeit not in anything that would be of any practical use, but beneath the rather vague exterior stirs a man with feelings for Miss Prism.

Dave Douglas and Robert Gregory provide the butlers Lane in London and Merriman in the country with Hazel Landreth completing the cast as the maid.

Malcolm Robertshaw’s splendid set shows a high attention to detail with some nice touches such as changing paintings to distinguish the same walls serving as rooms in London and the country and a well thought out glimpse of the furniture indoors from the garden of Jack’s house in the country mirroring the setting of the final act.

We even had distant birdsong in the background in the garden.

The costumes were also excellent in what was a very pleasing, well paced performance directed by Ian Appleby. To 26-09-15

Roger Clarke


BOX OFFICE: 0121 373 2761 or BOOK ONLINE


Home Reviews A-Z Reviews by affiliate