House drama is going from strength to strength at Haileybury, and the production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest by Lawrence and Albans has given the renaissance further impetus.
The play is a demanding one for any actor, and so it is a tribute to the cast that they performed it with such verve and humour. Rupert Savage’s Algernon had a suitably mischievous intelligence and subtly conveyed an unflustered attitude to all the seemingly dangerous developments in the action – this was a mature performance in such a pivotal role. Spinning pleasingly off Algernon was Kate Cullen’s powerful Gwendolen. This character was given tremendous energy, with Gwendolen positively exulting in her own superficiality. She carried many of the longer scenes with vibrancy and potent sexuality, capturing the attractive heartlessness that Wilde intended in the character.
There was strong support as well: James Skinner produced a well-judged and sympathetic Jack, especially given his relative lack of experience on the stage; Sophie Gibson’s Lady Bracknell was also appropriately terrifying – but with a suggested sense of vulnerability in the character. Additionally, Ben Murphy’s cameo as Merriman elicited the biggest laugh of the night, with his hair coloured and styled in a manner that has undoubtedly never been witnessed before in the Ayckbourn!
Dayne Paulding provided a fun contrast as the other butler, Lane, with facial expressions that revealed his understanding of the hypocrisy of his master. Chelsea Spearman also captured the thinly disguised innocence of Cecily and Fran Burn portrayed Miss Prism with intelligence and sensitivity. Joe Crawley was further worryingly convincing as a member of the church!
It is often underestimated just what an undertaking putting on a play is, and much credit must go to the commitment of all involved, especially to Nick Shepley for his strong direction and convincing updating of the setting. Praise is also due to Alan Brigden’s resourceful idea to use reversible flats in order to change the set.
Overall, this was such an enjoyable and light-hearted evening, and it confirmed the continued relevance of Wilde’s satire, especially when performed within a school! This was an ambitious play to choose, but the cast rose to the challenge, as did an engaged and thoughtful audience.