First and foremost, this was an incredibly enjoyable play. Admittedly, there were plenty of first night nerves and slip ups, but the cast of Drama Barn regulars settled into their roles throughout the evening. This was the Drama Barn’s Week 2 production of The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde’s comedy of manners and mistaken identity. The audience seemed divided mainly between those who adored the play, knowing most of it by heart, and those who didn’t even know the basic plot, a tricky division to cater for, and I’m afraid I fall into the former category.
The set was fairly minimalist, with a sort of festival vibe, engendered by fairy lights and flowers painted on the floor and pinned to the backdrop. It felt a bit half hearted, and a little at odds with the apparent 1940s setting. Neither was I a huge fan of the swing, which served to infantilise the 18 year old Cecily in a rather uncomfortable way. Despite this, they dealt admirably with the scene changes, with the very funny addition of Algernon (Joe Mackenzie) declaring “I want to switch the bathroom and the drawing room”, and insisting that they all carried his furniture out, only for the next lot of furniture to be carried on by the skittish and serenading Lane (Martha Pothen) and Merriman (Jamie Bowman).
The roles of Lane and Merriman were the two largest changes to the original script. They were altered from the deadpan, superior wit of Jeeves or the Admirable Crichton to surly underlings, resenting their employers, rather than mildly pitying them. It was funny, and the audience seemed to certainly enjoy it, and I can understand why they expanded the roles, but personally I didn’t like it, and thought it could have just been limited to the scene change interlude. The director should have found all the jokes in the script first, before rushing to add their own extra ones.
The other major alteration was having the terrifying Lady Bracknell played by a man. Sam Hill was superb, resisting the temptation to camp it up, whilst being incredibly funny. The four lovers were mostly very good. Cecily (Saffia Sage) and Gwendolyn’s (Lily Cooper) scene was excellent, and genuinely very funny. Jack (Matthew Roberts) and Algernon’s scenes together were also well done, with their duet being the highlight of the show. However they were all slightly less convincing when paired off with their respective partners, and there seemed to be rather a lack of chemistry between all the couples. Ryan Greer deserves a mention as the Reverend Chasuble, tapping into the ever comic trope of doddery parson.
The music too was mostly very good. The live band was a welcome addition, providing some excellent ‘lounge music’, and the singing was, aside from a few stumbles, very successful, especially the aforementioned duet.
It was such a strong cast, and I’ve seen them all excel in other roles, so it was a little disappointing that there were so many slip ups with lines, and the tendency to lean towards pantomime, when they are all capable of excellently nuanced performances. However I think much of this was due to first night nerves, and I hope they’ll settle into the roles throughout the weekend, indeed, after the interval they seemed a lot more comfortable in their roles. Despite this it was nonetheless very funny and definitely a nice way to spend an evening off from revision, and I’d definitely recommend going to see it. When writing this review I found myself using the word “mostly” repeatedly. I think that summarises this performance. It was mostly excellent, but it could have been better.