Something ghastly has happened to Christopher Morahan's production during its 18-month round-the-world trip. It has become a cartoon.
When first seen at Chichester in the summer of 1999, this was a straightforward, unfussy production – a little slow to work up to speed, but perfectly serviceable. Patricia Routledge, who was simply born to play Lady Bracknell, gave quite a nuanced performance, eschewing the florid Bracknell stereotype.
How times change. Apart from Routledge, the cast is entirely new, with the women picked up in Australia and the men apparently from central casting. Algernon is now a fey, flighty young thing, and Jack far too stolid for one to imagine him cooking up a fictitious brother as an alias. Sarah Kants as Cecily is not knowing enough for her character, whereas Essie Davis as Gwendolen is altogether too knowing. Reviewers have praised Davis for giving Gwendolen a determination and independence of spirit; all I could see was double entendre-laden vamping. During the pair's verbal duel in Act Two, it was the actors enjoying themselves rather than the characters. And Routledge's every word is now filled with Edith Evans-like quivering and stripped of all its subtlety. There will always be another chance to see this play, and almost certainly a better one.
Written for divento.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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