Review: The Importance Of Being Earnest at York Mansion House

17 Jul 2014 @ 4.08 pm
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Adam Elms as Algernon Moncrieff and Liam Tims as John Worthing in the Mansion House. Photographs: Tom Jackson
  The Importance Of Being Earnest by Theatre Mill
  York Mansion House, July 16, 2014

The signature of The Importance Of Being Earnest by Theatre Mill is gorgeousness. Gorgeous music, gorgeous set, lights, performers, cakes – even a signature cocktail provided to the enthusiastic audience.

Attending a Theatre Mill show can’t really be described as going to the theatre. The experience (and location) changes each time, taking the audience through an immersive journey in time.

While last April we were called to be jury members in Witness For The Prosecution we are now invited to the exclusive party held by eccentric Algerion Moncrieff (Adam Elms).

Our invitation cards are checked at the door, and we are then escorted to a beautiful reception area in Algernon’s city residence (aka York Mansion House).

We become aware that we are now in the Twenties, with some of the guests wisely deciding to dress up for the occasion, melting perfectly into the stunning vintage costumes of the cast.

When Algernon is ready to receive us we are guided to an upstairs room in the Mansion House, which has never looked as impressive.

Once all the guests are seated at their tables, we are introduced to Algernon and his hedonistic lifestyle.

We also get to meet best friend John Worthing (Liam Tims), who has decided to propose to the beautiful Gwendolen Fairfax (Stephanie De Whalley). First though, John has to clarify why he’s known in town as Earnest.

John explains he has created an altar ego for the careless, exciting city part of his life that had allowed him quick excuses to escape from the social obligations of his responsible countryside existence.

Now John wants to put an end to his double life. But Gwendolen’s mother Lady Bracknell (Prue Gillett) is not going to give her consent to the wedding until John/ Earnest family origins are clarified.

Meanwhile Algernon decides to visit the countryside as Earnest to meet the young and attractive Cecily (Isobel Hughes), John’s ward – eventually falling in love with her.

This situation is the source of the many plot twists that made Oscar Wilde’s play famous.

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Chin chin… a production as delicious as the cakes
Director Samuel Wood keeps Wilde’s inimitable take on society while adding new depths to the female characters, a choice that influenced the decision to set it in the 1920s.

As Wood explains: “At the end of the First World War, a massive change swept through society and this was nowhere more evident then the unblushing emergence of the ‘new women’.”

The female members of the cast do an amazing job in portraying three different generations of volatile but confident and ironic women.

The Importance Of Being Earnest is a sparkling eruption of fabulousness

Meanwhile, Adam Elms and Liam Tims entertain the guests with flawless elocution and hilarious slapstick moments.

With the stage embedded into the same physical space as the audience, we are often presented with more than one centre of action.

Multiple dynamic lines reproduce the complexity of real life, and as guests, we are free to decide who and where to watch.

The whole play is punctuated by the beautiful live vintage jazz of The After Hours Rauchestra. Ranging from Nat King Close to Cab Calloway and Django Reinhardt, the music creates a rich sensorial dialogue with the stunning lighting effects by Andy Pillner.

The scene of young Cecily dancing and reacting to the instruments during an incredibly rich and exciting set change is unforgettable.

Where Witness For The Prosecution was a well balanced, polished, and perfectly formed gem, The Importance Of Being Earnest is a sparkling eruption of fabulousness.

Free from the more severe meditations on trust and truth, the play focuses on joy and playfulness. Even when it presents a cynical view of life, it does so with a generous dose of amusement and very little bitterness.

The production is a fantastic way of celebrating the amazing success of the first year of Theatre Mill, and offers the audience a night of guaranteed gorgeousness.

  • The Importance Of Being Earnest by Theatre Mill is at the Mansion House, York, until August 17
  • To book, go to the York Theatre Royal website
  • Preview: Theatre pioneers go Wilde in the Mansion House