Yes, it sounds so wrong in oh so many ways doesn’t it?
The Importance of Being Earnest as a musical? But then again (and we know we really should have tried harder) the Whingers’ curiosity wasn’t even piqued enough by Ann Widdecombe’s panto debut to drag them to Dartford this season. But Gyles Brandreth giving his Lady Bracknell? This proved a USP big enough to brave the trek to Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios.
Dragged-up Lady Bs are of course nothing new. Brian Bedford has recently delivered one on Broadway, Geoffrey Rush is giving his down under. Heavens, Phil saw the brilliant Hinge and Bracket as Miss Prism and Lady B respectively at the then Whitehall Theatre. Mind you, it was execrable.
And this could so easily have turned out to go the same way but remarkably it is in fact really rather good.
Douglas Livingstone (book and lyrics) has neatly adapted the silliness about two silly young blades who fall for two silly young women who will only marry a man called Earnest by keeping the plot and numerous famous aphorisms more or less intact (which is no mean feat, as TIOBE is Oscar Wilde‘s Hamlet).
The songs are light and breezy and mostly don’t hold up the plot, frequently allowing dialogue to continue mid tune (composers Adam McGuinness and Zia Moranne), especially in the case of Lady B who sensibly speak-sings his/her numbers. On occasions they introduce some quite interesting diversions in heir own right – the duet “It all Began in a Garden” is undoubtedly a highlight thanks to the delicious comedic marriage of Susie Blake as Miss Prism and Edward Petherbridge as Canon Chasuble.
The lyrics are laudably audible and the cast are disarmingly charming. The Whingers found themselves moved to share particular enthusiasm for Anya Murphy and Flora Spencer-Longhurst‘s Gwendolen and Cecily.
Brandreth looks very comfortable in his “Queen Mary look” and plays it with applaudable restraint. Sailing through in a budget-defying blue-grey ensemble, an agreeable mix of hauteur and charm, more battleship than battleaxe, he sensibly reinterprets the iconic “A handbag” line which neatly leads into the next song which of course is called “Handbag”. Indeed, had we had a hand in this musicalisation, Handbag! would be have been our chosen moniker.
Iqbal Khan directs with a deft lightness, the costumes (Robert Worley) are surprisingly smart and the set (Samal Blak), appropriately appropriating various pieces of luggage, is a triumph of wit and imagination over economics. Even the programme contains more than one could reasonably expect and it puts the West End to shame, on offer as it is, at a mere 100 new pennies.
Worth the trip.