New blood for SUDS: Review of The Importance of Being Earnest

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suds importance of being earnest 2
Having a jolly old time: L-R Alexander Hendry (Rev. Chasuble), Marina Sa (Miss Prism), Marijne Nieuwerf (Lady Bracknell), Matthew Crawford (Algernon), Andrew Hart (Jack Worthing), Bede Batters (Lane/Merriman),  Tessa Richards (Gwendolen Fairfax), Eilidh Grubb (Cecily Cardew). Photo Credit: Callum Downs.
Last week, director Calum Moore and producer Rowan MacAskill promised me an evening of fun and physical comedy at SUDS’ latest show, The Importance of Being Earnest. And they did not disappoint.

Andrew Hart and Matthew Crawford were every bit the ultimate bromance as Jack Worthing (Ernest) and Algernon Moncrieff. Their secret thumbs up signals and jumping into one another’s arms when they find out they are brothers had the air of Turk and JD from Scrubs.

This was a refreshing twist on the Victorian melodrama of family reunions. Tessa Richard’s facial expressions as Gwendolen Fairfax, particularly the visual distaste for the name ‘Jack’ over ‘Ernest’, also gained some laughs. As did Eilidh Grubb, who played Jack’s ward Cecily. Her sly grin as she mischievously added sugar to Gwendolen’s tea won over the audience.

In fact, Grubb and Hart were one of the few cast members who maintained having punch in the delivery of their lines consistently throughout the show. I must admit, I had never seen The Importance of Being Earnest before Monday 16 October, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

However, having brushed up on audio recordings, the 2002 film and the 2015 production at the Vaudeville Theatre on YouTube, I found the key to the success of Wilde’s humour was the wit in the delivery of the line, which this production lacked at the beginning, and laughs were missed.

SUDS Importance of Being Earnest
Serious faces: L-R, Alexander Hendry (Rev. Chasuble), Marina Sa (Miss Prism), Marijne Neiwerth (Lady Bracknell), Matthew Crawford (Algernon), Eilidh Grubb (Cecily Cardew), Andrew Hart (Jack Worthing), Tessa Richards (Gwendolen Fairfax), Bede Batters (Lane/Merriman). Photo credit: Callum Downs.
This was especially key in the play where Algey should say “women only call each other sister after they’ve called each other a lot of other things first,” meaning women are only friends once they have asserted their dominance.

In this production, Matthew Crawford said ‘afterwards,’ which lost the meaning of the point Wilde was trying to make. I must hand it to Crawford, as according to Calum this was his first play; he did extremely well in portraying the exuberant and flamboyant spirit that is Algey.

I am pleased to say that delivery for the other cast members did improve in time and the show received much more belly-filled laughs from a quarter of the way through onwards.

Bede Batters must be given a special mention for his deadpan droll portrayal of Algey’s butler Lane; and, in keeping with the motif of aliases, moonlighted as Jack’s servant Merriman.

Having now seen and heard other productions, I believe Batters was perfectly cast in this role. Although it was a limited speaking part, his presence could always be felt as a silent onlooker, polishing glasses and watching the comedy/melodrama unfold.

SUDS Importance of Being Ernest
SUDS’ promotional poster for The Importance of Being Earnest: Art work credit: Tessa Richards.
During our preview interview last week, Callum and Rowan told me they had many men try out for the role of Gwendolen’s mother Lady Bracknell, a concept which is becoming increasingly common in the theatre (see David Suchet’s hilarious portrayal in the 2015 production).

This would have been very interesting to see but I was assured that the role went to the best person of the three auditions, SUDS newcomer Marijne Nieuwerf. She was terrific as the stuffy and snobby Lady Bracknell, her constant throwing of her fur coat at Lane/Merriman was a comedic touch.

Marina Sa was brilliant as tough egg Miss Prism, but with a soft centre for lost manuscripts and feelings for Rev. Chasuble, played by Alexander Hendry. Their flirtatious camaraderie was delightfully entertaining to watch.

It was obvious a lot of effort had gone into the hair and makeup in this production. Most of the costumes were in keeping with the period, apart from Hart’s modern suit and Grubb’s knee-length dress, which were slightly more contemporary and a bit out of place. But these are minor, if not pedantic, niggles.

Despite the occasional line fluff, considering the whole production was pulled together in four weeks, and out of the eight characters, only two ­were SUDS veterans, the show was quite an achievement. Callum announced this would be his last show with SUDS, and considering himself and Rowan received a standing ovation on closing night, he will be leaving on a high note.

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