Farewell to the Theatre/The Importance of Being Earnest, Rose Theatre, Kingston
Jane Asher is the icing on the cake in this delightful double-header
Tuesday 11 October 2011
On certain dates during its run, Stephen Unwin's remarkably fresh account of Wilde's "trivial comedy for serious people" can be seen in tandem with the same director's wistful and witty production of Farewell to the Theatre. Now receiving its much belated European premiere, this latter is a one-act drama by Harley Granville-Barker (1877-1946), one of the great pioneers of the English stage who – after making innovations in the field of socially committed repertoire, ensemble acting and Shakespeare production liberated from literalism – effectively retired at the age of 40 from much practical contact with the theatre.
There's not much continuity of theme between the two pieces, although, as Unwin notes, there is an enjoyably piquant perversity about mounting a comedy conceived for picture-box presentation together with a drama that contemplates a type of theatre that moves beyond those boundaries on the Rose's wide, Elizabethan-style thrust stage. The imposing gilt-edged proscenium arch that is a constant in Hayden Griffin's eloquent design pulls the symmetrical patterning of Wilde's masterpiece into attractively crisp focus and acts as a sort of spectral frame to the encounter dramatised in Farewell to the Theatre.
The pairing certainly allows Jane Asher to pull off a strikingly accomplished double. Smashing the old boot mould and flashing gracious smiles that could curdle milk in the udder, she's an almost sexily severe and handsome Lady Bracknell. Resplendent in peacock-blue and radiating a poised playfulness, Asher also portrays Margaret, the grande dame du theatre who, in Granville-Barker's play, comes to consult her solicitor and friend Edward (a gentle, injured giant of unrequited devotion in Richard Cordery's lovely performance).
Asher captivatingly communicates the brisk lack of self-pity and the wry ruminativeness of a woman who envisages closing down her theatre because she is sick of buttering up millionaire backers – and despairs of a public who began to reject her art once she turned the mirrors to the wall and drew on living models for her characterisations.
Any settled notion of the truth is deliriously exploded in The Importance. While driving the sublime, near-surreal silliness to giddy heights and revelling in the view that "style not sincerity is the vital thing" in matters of grave concern, Unwin's crack cast never fail to generate the good-humoured warmth that irradiates this simultaneously subversive and conformist masterpiece.
To 30 October (08444 821556)
tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods
tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 President of Argentina adopts Jewish godson to 'stop him turning into a werewolf'
- 2 ALS ice bucket challenge co-founder Corey Griffin drowns, aged 27
- 3 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public set to see exhibits from police’s grisly crime museum
- 4 AirAsia flight QZ8501 missing: Plane carrying 162 passengers from Indonesia to Singapore disappears over Java Sea
- 5 Naomi Wolf reacts to Isis 'conspiracy theories' critism after she questions whether beheading videos are real
Downton Abbey Christmas special 2014, review: Love is everywhere, actually
The golden age of TV comedy is here
The Boy in the Dress, TV review: David Walliams' Boxing Day treat is a celebration of being different
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
From Marvel to Star Wars: The rise of cinema’s shared universes
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Millions of Britons struggling to feed themselves and facing malnourishment
Immigrants make UK racist, says Ukip councillor Trevor Shonk
Nigel Farage: Ukip leader named 'Briton of the year' by The Times