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The Importance of Playing it Straight
On Wednesday, it being inamac's birthday, we went to the theatre. Being us, we went to see The Importance of Being Earnest at the Vaudeville, which is perhaps five minutes walk from where I work, so we had a fair amount of time to fill before curtain-up. We had a decent meal with not very good wine at Stranded in London, a somewhat overpriced Italian on the Strand itself, then walked up to Covent Garden and the HMV there, where Ina picked up "Moving Wallpaper" and, we filled in a couple of gaps in our collection with very cheap DVDs, and I picked up the CD of Wicked at a price I am agreeable to pay, as opposed to the one being charged everywhere else.

Wilde, like Shaw, is almost impossible to mess with, and the director and producer didn't, sticking with the text, and using set dressing, costuming and stage directions in a way I am sure Oscar would have approved. It was played fast and, even with two intervals, lasted only just over two hours, which is how it should be. It's a play that stands or falls by how much the audience laughs at overly-familiar dialogue. This time, they and we laughed a lot.

Every great comedy actress sooner or later longs to have a go at Lady Bracknell, and this production was built around Penelope Keith's. It was an impressive performance. Her Lady Bracknell was totally self-centred, as she must be, and totally ruthless, as she also must be, but actually had charm and a touch of warmth, and a quite definite intelligence. The sarcasm was much harder hitting for being gently delivered. I must be getting old or something, because I could see her point of view entirely, given the period, and if Algy (William Ellis) had been my nephew, I think I would have slapped him. If I was Jack I certainly would. I actually, I thought Jack (Harry Haddon-Patton)was the weakest link in an excellent cast, being almost indistinguishable from Algernon and just as annoying. Gwendolyn (Daisy Haggard), that little hussy, is plainly going to grow up in thirty years to become her mother, and Rebecca Night (who impressed me enormously in Fanny Hill which I thought was much the best TV costume drama of the last year)brought a romantic self-delusion to Cecily that reminded me irresistibly of a fan-brat in full flow. This actress is going places.

Oh, and that line? You know, the handbag one that actresses must dread as much as actors dread "To be or not to be"? Ms Keith took the only direction she could, and just twitched an eyebrow, without even raising her voice. I've never seen it underplayed before, but, by gum, it works.

Four star version of a five star play. Penelope Keith gets the full five.

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Bravo Penelope! My mother wanted to go and see this, but an operation got in the way and she's still not fully recovered.

I'm so sorry because your mum missed a treat.

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