Home » Opera and Ballet » Review : The Importance of Being Earnest at the Barbican – 29th March 2016

Review : The Importance of Being Earnest at the Barbican – 29th March 2016

The Importance of Being Earnest, Barbican, London - March 2016

Curievici as John Worthing,Nelson as Algernon, Ewing as Lady Bracknell, Boyle as Cecily Cardew, Marshall as  Gwendolen Fairfax © ROH photograph by Stephen Cummiskey

The Barbican provides the stage for the latest production of Gerald Barry’s inventive and anarchic operatic version of Oscar Wilde’s classic play The Importance of Being Earnest.

Since its 2011 concert premiere in Los Angeles and its 2013 stage premiere in Nancy, the production has entertained audiences with its humour and musical invention. In 2013, it won the Royal Philharmonic Society Award for best large-scale composition.

Whilst Wilde’s play satirises Edwardian values with wit and wordplay, Barry’s score by cutting Wilde’s text by two-thirds and adding various additions manages to turn it into a comic opera which follows its own logical yet surreal journey.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Barbican, London - March 2016

Wilding as Lane-Merriman, Nelson as Algernon, Ewing as Lady Bracknell,Curievici as John Worthing, Marshall as  Gwendolen Fairfax © ROH photograph by Stephen Cummiskey

In the play, food and drink plays a secondary role but in this production, drinking tea, eating cucumber sandwiches and discussing the merits of muffins take on considerable importance. The plot is centred around Ernest who loves Gwendolen, but he hasn’t told her that his name is really Jack and he has a ward named Cecily who lives in the country. His friend Algernon introduces himself to Cecily as Jack’s brother Ernest and they fall in love. The reactions to the particular names by the characters are amplified by musical backing which gives remarkable importance to inane comments. The cast in modern dress enter the stage from the front and often return to the front row of the audience when they are not needed.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Barbican, London - March 2016

Benedict Nelson as Algernon , Claudia Boyle as Cecily Cardew © ROH photograph by Stephen Cummiskey

This type of production places a considerable responsibility on the cast to play their characters will some seriousness amongst all the slapstick humour. Alan Ewing is a male Lady Bracknell who quotes passages from Schiller with increasing and disturbing German fervour, the brightly attired Algernon (Benedict Nelson) is seduced by the awkward but resourceful Cecily (Claudia Boyle) and Miss Prism ( Hilary Summers) offers a certain kind of middle class bewilderment. Central to the plot is relationship between timid but charming Ernest (Paul Curievici) and the strong willed Gwendolen (Stephanie Marshall) which is played with considerable skill and comedic timing. Marshall’s talent for comedy is further illustrated when Gwendolen and Cecily’s battle of words take place with the use of megaphones and accompanied by the smashing of plates for musical and dramatic effect.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Barbican, London - March 2016

Stephanie Marshall as Gwendolen Fairfax © ROH photograph by Stephen Cummiskey

In this anarchic production directed by Ramin Gray, the actors and Britten Sinfonia are tested musically and in many other ways. Ernest and Lady Bracknell show some fancy footwork as they dance around the stage discussing his marriage proposal. Britten Sinfonia’s conductor Tim Murray led the ensemble through the high energy of the music with considerable restraint which merely added to the comedy effect, the Britten Sinfonia offered much more than musical backing being an integral part of the madcap humour with lines often delivered in a collective voice.

The Importance of Being Earnest, Barbican, London - March 2016

The Importance of being Earnest  © ROH photograph by Stephen Cummiskey

Comic opera is notoriously difficult to pull off successfully, The Importance of Being Earnest succeeds by paying homage to Wilde’s wit in an innovative and original way. In many respects the essence of the play which parodies the self-importance of the upper middle classes is bought up to date and has considerable relevance in our own superficial, money obsessed age. It was a message enjoyed and understood by an enthusiastic Barbican audience who were delighted by  a work that is already considered  a contemporary classic.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information and book tickets, visit the Royal Opera House website here

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