Review: ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, Thomas Whitham Sixth Form

What’s in a name? If that name is Earnest then it is a label for laughter.

Thursday, 27th February 2014, 10:40 am
Cast of The Importance of Being Ernest at Thomas Whitham Sixth Form in Burnley.
Photo Ben Parsons
Cast of The Importance of Being Ernest at Thomas Whitham Sixth Form in Burnley. Photo Ben Parsons

True British laughter that sixth form teenagers in Burnley proved is quite timeless.

Thomas Whitham Sixth Form drama students beautifully presented Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” – a play that proves (if it needs proving) how the writer was so ahead of his time.

As a classic piece of writing it has gentle humour that even today’s young audience - and cast - still find amusing as he takes an irreverent look at English class society and manners as “the gentry” laugh at themselves.

And I say beautiful because the acting was excellent and the play being set in the round in the Barden Lane campus auditorium meant you felt part of this lovely English story that weaves a tangled but humorous web of love and class in a lighthearted way.

The Thomas Whitham students were so engaging you felt that they not only understood Wilde’s thinking when he wrote this comedy, but were all really enjoying it.

Which is tribute to his creativity when you consider he wrote it more than 100 years ago.

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train,” and “I don’t think I would care to catch a sensible man. I shouldn’t know what to talk to him about,” are classic Wilde quotes from the two leading ladies, played so well and confidently by Sophie Dand as Gwendoline Fairfax and Lisa-Marie Ashworth as Cecily Cardew who both believe they are engaged to the same man called Earnest and get in all of a tither.

“The Importance of Being Earnest” was Oscar Wilde’s last and most famous play which he released in London on Valentine’s Day 1895. It is said to be one of the finest comedies in the English language “full of subversive wit and sharp satire”.

And I think he would have been hugely amused to see how it was interpreted by a group of talented young people in Burnley 116 years later.

Sitting in the theatre on opening night it was fascinating to see a play of its time being given a 2014 makeover without losing any of its authenticity.

Well done director Dave Warren for the staging of this - he even made the scenery changes (by the cast, in character, to great music) an integral part of the production.

The cast is small in size but big in talent as we were first introduced to Lane the manservant played by Luke Crowther who doesn’t say much but what he does is full of humour and character. Later Mathew Robinson as Merriman the Scottish butler adds much humour with his gruff Celtic manner. Then we met the two male leads. Joe Davis played the part of food loving Algernon Moncrieff with quiet humour that worked wonderfully well as he outwits his friend, chomps through many a mound of cucumber sandwiches and muffins and delivers Wilde’s one-liners excellently. Pair him up with Jack Herbert who is becoming a polished character actor with roles to date as diverse as the angry father in “Love on the Dole”, Danny in “Grease” and an American GI in “Miss Saigon”. From this to taking on a toff (Jack Worthing) in this play shows the range of his talent. And let’s not forget the part of Lady Bracknell played by Rob Gray. He did not quite manage to conquer the elegance of sitting like a lady and I’m sure his high heels were hurting, but he played the part so agreeably (as the author would say) that he was a delight. Line after line of Wilde’s great prose were delivered so well. “To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness,” being just one.

The other smaller parts were played by Nikki Craig as Miss Prism the governess and Abdin Khan as the Rev. Chasuble who both managed to catch the essence of their characters.

Joshua Clegg and Charlotte Bevis as the household servants did not have to say a word, but played their part so well, it was just another small touch that made the whole evening blend so well.