The Importance Of Being Earnest, Old Vic, Bristol

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The Independent Culture

Fancy a gay-sex farce? Then look no further than this ultra-camp all-male production of Oscar Wilde's comedy. The programme has a po-faced essay entitled "the importance of queering Earnest". It explains that the play's sexual subtext has hitherto been ignored, and that Earnest and Cecily, names of characters in the play, were gay Victorian code; that the social deception known as "Bunburying" speaks for itself; and that the chatter about eating muffins and getting butter on your cuffs is deeply suggestive - butter being a lubricant.

David Fielding, who directs and designs, has "outed" the show, painting the whole thing pink. The girls could all do with a shave, and a soundtrack of suitable hits, such as "Tainted Love", are squeezed in between each act.

There is, of course, something deeply camp about the play, its layers of meaning making the comedy almost endlessly suggestive. That's its genius. But the effect here is a bit like a Little Britain sketch - the one where two huge, corseted dames insist "we are ladies!". Of the weirder re-interpretations, the character of the twittering Miss Prism is oddest. She is built like a navvy, and carries a cane with which she thrashes her own flanks, sucking her knuckles with ecstasy.

Lady Bracknell seems doubly monstrous in the form of the splendid Michael Fitzgerald who handbags her relatives into submission from beneath a truly hideous hat. Christopher Staines' Jack minces for England in a blazer and plenty of eyeliner. Algernon (James Frost) is clearly glad to be gay.

Of the girls, Simon Trinder's Gwendolen is a riot of pouts and knowing looks - the funniest of a mixed-ability cast. The wigless Cecily's (Joseph Chance) sideburns I found a bit off-putting.

This gender-bending night out has a topsy-turvy air of Lewis Carroll about it - which isn't inappropriate for such a surreal play. As a visual assault on the chuckle muscles it works a treat. But the play's language - the puns, paradoxes and non-sequiturs - gets batted about without any real impact. There should, also, be some poignancy in the last act - a saga of lost babies and personal revelations.

By screaming out what the author smuggled between the lines, the evening becomes exhaustingly blatant. Wilde would have enjoyed the unfettered campery of it all - but not the clunks in the delivery.

To 28 May (0117-987 7877)