It’s a play that has been performed to death, with a plethora of West End adaptations in the past decade alone. Each new staging promises to either revive the original humour, or offer some revolutionary new interpretation of Wilde’s final play, with most ending up underwhelming or forgettable. Enter Michael Fentiman, the director who, for me at least, has hit the nail square on the head in the Vaudeville’s latest production of the classic…
The atmosphere is charged from the very beginning, with the opening notes of the piano that Fehinti Balogun is ‘playing’ immediately setting the pace that the rest of the play is to follow and filling the stage with a certain air – an air which later proves to be rampant sexual tension.
The chemistry between the cast is electric, with Balogun’s Algernon serving as the perfect opposite to Jacob Fortune-Lloyd’s Jack; watching Algernon as he danced gleefully on Jack’s every last nerve, and seeing the latter unravel as a result, was the single most satisfying thing I’ve seen play out on a theatre stage for a long time. An unsurprisingly divisive element of Fentiman’s adaptation is Algernon’s bisexuality: while it could be viewed as a problematic plot element, personally it simply adds to the whimsical nature of this character and reflects the values that he himself expresses about love and romance.
I take great pleasure, however, in stating that it is the female cast members that steal the show. Pippa Nixon’s Gwendoline is truly hilarious: from her less-than-subtle flirtatious exchanges with her beloved ‘Ernest’ to her on-again-off-again friendship with Cecily, there is not a dialogue that is not seized upon and mined for its comedic value. Jack’s sweet ward, Cecily, is perfectly portrayed by Fiona Button – she is flirtatious, she is bold, she is fabulous, and does well to not be overshadowed by the heavyweight and audacious characters that she shares the stage with.
And, of course, Lady Bracknell. Sophie Thompson had big shoes to fill with the past iconic performances of this role, but if she was feeling the pressure to do it justice, it certainly didn’t show. From the moment she enters each scene, her dominance is apparent, with characters and audience alike holding their breath while she asserts her will in an operatic manner.
This is a comedic masterpiece through and through, from the obvious wit and epigrams of Wilde’s original text to the more subtle and playful elements that Fentiman adds, there was barely a moment that did not warrant a laugh from the audience. It was a simple joy to watch the riotous events play out with hilarious repercussions.
If you don’t wanto miss out on the final play of Classic Spring’s Oscar Wilde Season, grab tickets right here, and if you’re still not sure, click here for all the reasons why you need to see this latest production of Wilde’s classic.