One fears for the worst when a curiously past-it looking Algernon drops a cue in the opening scene of Oscar Wilde's evergreen rom-com concerning mistaken identity amongst courting couples who flit and flirt between town and country. Within seconds, however, it becomes clear that Lucy Bailey's touring production is throwing the audience a googly. This comes in the form of the Bunbury Company of Players, the fictitious home counties am-dram group used as a framing device to justify Bailey's casting of older actors in roles usually reserved for ingenues.
As scripted by Simon Brett, the Bunbury Players have been revisiting Earnest since their first production of the play in 1970, so it is now the preserve of the company's elder statesmen and women rather than starlets. While the rehearsal room role-call of offstage affairs, reluctant butlers and cricketing distractions add an extra layer of hammed-up identity crises, they aren't fully followed through enough to be much more than a one-line diversion.
What the casting of Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis as bachelor boys Algernon and Jack, and Carmen Du Sautoy and Christine Kavanagh as Gwendolen and Cecily does do, however, is give an extra edge to their courtships that shifts the balance of power somewhat. So while Algernon and Jack sound in the midst of mid-life desperation, Cecily and Gwendolen are savvier and more confident. With Sian Phillips' Lady Bracknell the play's perennial pivot, the show's conceit also points up just how much time is spent discussing the follies of all ages, as audiences will find out when the Bunbury Company of Players stop off at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow the week after next.
The Herald, November 12th 2015