There's always been a knowingly subversive heart beyond the seemingly throwaway one-liners of Oscar Wilde's most celebrated dissection of polite society. There are hints of this during the opening of Richard Baron's revival when Gavin Swift's work-shy fop Algernon comes to at the piano following an all-night bender. With tunes blaring from the Victrola and complete strangers puffing on something dubious in the living room, just when you think Viz comic's Raffles The Gentleman Thug might gatecrash, in steps Reece Richardson's lovesick Jack Worthing.
The boys duly indulge in some bantz before Jack makes goo-goo eyes at Emma Odell's deceptively coy Gwendolen on the blind side of Margaret Preece's Lady Bracknell, a buttoned-up gold-digger who used to be a bit of a one. What follows as Algie and Jack embark on an elaborate game of kiss-chase with Gwendolen and Jack's country-dwelling ward Cecily seems to signify an entire class in search of some kind of identity beyond the numerous facades they flit between.
If keeping up appearances is everything here, the prospect of sex broods beneath each layer in a way that set a template for Made in Chelsea. There's an archness to proceedings as Swift and co play interior monologues direct to the audience in a set of winning turns that capture Wilde's recognition of his characters' sheer ridiculousness. In this way, the play winds up its world's occupants with a gleeful abandon that cuts through its respectable veneer without them even realising it. If Wilde is guilty of anything, it's of investing them with more intelligence than they deserve in this timelessly ribald exploration of the unbearable lightness of being.
The Herald, July 24th 2015