Tag Archives: Laurence Pears

The Importance of Being Earnest
reviewed Ipswich 24 March

Red Rose Chain’s spring production is a new one by artistic director Joanna Carrick of Oscar Wilde’s best-known comedy. Carrick has provided a framing induction(?) which involves the 1960s descendants of Wilde’s 1890s characters clearing out the old family country home – now too big and too expensive to maintain. Quite frankly, this adds nothing but an extra gloss of artificiality to the play proper, but I suppose such things are in fashion.

This is a theatre-in-the-round staging, which place a special load on the actors, especially when they’re required to engage directly with the audience. The design eam – Carrick, David Newborn, Jack Heydon and Leo George – circulate the prologue, the main play and the epilogue – around a couple of packing-cases, a chaise longue, a tea-trolley and a tin-toned upright piano.

Joanna Sawyer is the musical director and choreographer, and she keeps her cast on the move, notably in the case of Lawrence Russell’s whirlwind Jack (he also plays Chasuble and Frank in the framing scenes). Laurence Pears contrasts lankily as Algernon and a simpering Miss Prism. The men’s quick changes of costume, especially in scenes where both the characters they play are on-stage simultaneously, is a delight to watch.

Of the women, we first meet Sawyer as Frnk’s trendy fiancée, all Carnaby Street mini-skirt and high-boots – not to mention wielding an oversize demonstration banner with theories to match. Her Cecily has a similar sparkle, manipulating her young-girl flounced skirt to devasting effect as far as Algy is concerned. Leonie Spilsbury is the slightly repressed Eloise and the confident débutante Gwendolyn; one has a horrid feeling that she might indeed end up as her mother’s true daughter.

Butlers Merriman (a misnomer if ever there was one) and Lane are doubled by Antony Carrick. At the end, Lane’s nostalgia has something of the dying fall impact of Firs from The Cherry Orchard. Joanna Carrick’s Lady Bracknell tries too hard to make us “get the point”; by this stage in his career, Wilde knew precisely how to let a line work with its hearers, without over-pointing by the actor. Those bare arms for a society matron in daytime clothes also jar.

Three and a half-star rating.

The Importance of Being Earnest continues at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich until 9 April.

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Peter Pan Goes Wrong
(reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 7 April 2015)

Anyone who has ever been involved, even indirectly through a friend or family member, Knows that amateur productions – especially those of the more ambitious kind – have a terrible propensity to come adrift. This successor to The Play That Goes Wrong. one of last year’s most resounding successes, gives us more of the same.

Adam Meggido’s production of the script by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields begins a good quarter of an hour before the official start time with three overworked stage crew members from the Cornley Polytechnic Dramatic Society frantically trying to sort out last-minute hitches both back-stage and front-of-house.

These include securing wobbly seats and attempting to finalise the lighting and sound-system cues. When the curtain rises it is to reveal a set on a self-willed revolve (another recipe for disaster, brilliantly conceived by Simon Scullion) and a distinct lack of co-ordination between the show’s narrator (an increasingly tetchy Harry Kershaw), stage management and the over-ambitious special effects.

All the amateur actors have taken the art of preen to its limits.This applies especially to Leonie Hall’s Wendy (she’s had ballet classes and it determined never to let us forget it) the multi-cast Naomi Sheldon (try doubling Mrs Darling, the maid Lisa and obstreperous Tinker Bell) and our hero (Alex Bartram). he’s someone who may have mastered the art of seduction but definitely is a novice at flight.

Laurence Pears has the usual double of uptight Mr Darling (all that rage about a lost cuff-link!) and the would-be debonair Captain Hook. It won’t surprise you to hear that Hook loses his prosthesis, as well as his wig and his hat several times over. Oh yes, as well his footing when his ship fails to moor itself at the correct angle and the revolve, not to mention the flats, take on a perverse life of their own.

The cast thoroughly enjoy themselves while never failing to let us all in on the joke. Pears and Bartram are the funniest of the men, run a close second by Cornelius Booth as a bearded Michael (don’t ask!) and hapless Matt Cavendish as the lad whose family is financing the show but still finds himself relegated to the non-speaking roles of the dog and the crocodile. But all comes right (well, sort of) in the end. Great fun.

Peter Pan Goes Wrong plays at the Arts Theatre Cambridge until 12 April and at the Theatre Royal, Norwich 11 to 16 May.

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