"Clever and modern Wilde adaptation"
by Matthew Partridge for remotegoat on 08/02/19

While there have been thousands of modern adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, productions of Oscar Wilde’s plays have generally refused to stray from the upper class nineteenth century setting. This is perhaps down to the fact that the humour and plot are seen as very specific to the Victorian era, in a way that Shakespeare’s plays are not. “Th’ Importance of Being Earnest”, directed by Luke Adamson and Toby Hampton attempts to change this by relocating Wilde’s comic masterpiece to the North of England in the 1990s.

Algernon Moncrieff (Luke Adamson) leads a ‘Shameless’ style existence in Yorkshire, snorting coke and taking drugs with flatmate Lane (James King) and tracksuited friend Jack Worthing (Joshua Welch). However, when he learns that Worthing is in charge of eighteen-year-old Cecily Cardew (Millie Gaston), and has created a fictitious brother Earnest to allow him lead a double life, he quickly decides to make the journey to the Woolton Council Estate to visit her, posing as Earnest. Meanwhile, Jack must find a way to persuade Lady Bracknell (Kitty Martin) to let him marry her daughter Gwendolyn (Heather Dutton).

The real strength of the production is the way in which Adamson and Hampton are able to make the shift in time, locale and class seem plausible yet comic. This is helped by some unintentional jokes in the text, such as Worthing’s £7,000 a year, a very large sum in Wilde’s time but a realistically meagre sum in 1995. The clever use of props, such as a diary with Take That stickers on it, and an inflatable pool, also work well. While the ending doesn’t fit quite so well, it doesn’t matter since by then the audience has been won over.

While all the performance are good, the star of the show is Adamson, who is reminiscent of a younger John Challis. Overall, this is a strong performance of a classic play that will challenge your preconceptions about Wilde.

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