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The Importance of Being Earnest: Barons Court

Friday, 9 September, 2011

The best play ever written about a handbag

Barons Court Theatre, Curtain’s Up pub, 28a Comeragh Road, London, W14 9HR August 16th -4th September 2011

Professional Help Productions have produced a delightfully entertaining piece of theatre with their version of Oscar Wilde’s best known play The Importance of being Earnest.

Barons Court theatre is a limited space in which to perform such a large piece of theatre but Elouise West direction is superb.  Elouise West has assisted Olivia Award winner Robin Norton-Hale and Mark Ravenhill since graduating in 2010 and this experience shows throughout the production.  The theatre is encircled with 3 sets of seating but the actors are well placed and the directions is brave enough that there is some back acting but never enough that you miss the reactions on stage.  Throughout the performance the direction holds and the acting is strong, although at points it drops in pace.

The set is quite minimal and needs to be because of the small area in Barons Court theatre.  At the back of the space is a red chaise longue and behind that what looks like an extra-long concertina room partition. Down stage left is a tea trolley and downstage left facing upstairs is a wooden chair.  All the space is used to its full potential in this production and none of the characters are in one place long enough for your attention to be lost. There was probably a medium sized budget for this piece, and while the costumes looked like they had been sourced from vintage shops, they looked right for the era of this play.

Luke Stevenson who plays Lane the butler and Merriman is so subtle in his acting that he is often a scene stealer.  Often this can be seen as a bad thing in theatre but actually this adds another layer to this production.  While the audience are taking their seats Lane the butler is seen meticulously rearranging a set of teapots downstage.  The comic timing of this and the throwaway looks toward the audience are unobtrusive and very welcome.  This start to the show already has the audience member in a willing position wanting to see more.

The script flows freely and in this adaptation the actors seem to react well off one another and are believable in their characters.  Deborah Wastell as Gwedolen Fairfax is excellent. Her mannerism and tone in all her scenes are spot on. Simon Higins as Alegernon Moncrieff and Alastair Natkiel as Jack Worthing have an enviable rapport on stage.  All their scenes together are well paced and you feel you are watching actual friends get up to mischief.  The only downsides to this production are scenes with Julia Lacey who plays Miss Prism and Julian Lamoral-Roberts as the Rev. Canon Chausible.  Both actors seem to show little range and the pace of their scences, although set in the country rather than the city, lack pace.  Rebecca Windsor, playing Cecily Cardew, is the only reasons these scenes don’t totally put people to sleep.

This young company have a lot to offer for the future and Professional Help Productions describe this as the best play ever written about a handbag – well the best I’ve seen about a handbag for a long while!

Cast Credits:  Sarah Dearlove-Lady Bracknell; Simon Higgins –Alegernon Moncrieff; Julia Lacey-Miss Prism;  Julian Lamoral-Roberts- Rev. Canon Chausible; Alastair Natkeil- Jack Worthing; Luke Stevenson –Lane & Merriman; Deborah Wastell –Gwedolen Fairfax; Rebecca Windsor – Cecily Cardew.

Company Credits:  Director Elouise West, Designer – Andy Robinson, Costume Designer Kim Baffour, Stage Manager Rah Petherbridge, Choreographer- Natalie Hope, Lighting Designer Dan Young.

Website: www.professionalhelpproductions.com

(c) Rebecca Talbot 2011

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