(4 / 5)
This play is an old favourite that you may well have seen before, either on stage or on screen. So that raises certain expectations – if it’s going to be a classic production then it needs to do a lot more than just tick the boxes. Richard Fitch’s production at Theatr Clwyd certainly does just that. Yes it has the lavish period sets, and yes it has the authentically recreated Victorian costumes, but it also has a whole lot more to offer.
From the moment that Algy (James Backway) bounds onto the stage the audience is bowled along by the infectious energy of this company of 8 talented actors. No opportunity for comedy is lost as Algy and his more conventional friend Jack (Matt Jessup) engage in a verbal sparring match that only escalates when the imperious Lady Bracknell arrives with wonderfully quivering feathers in her array of impressive hats (Hilary Maclean), accompanied by her deceptively dutiful daughter Gwendolen (Emma Denly). Many of the lines are so familiar that we are almost waiting for them to be delivered, but that doesn’t make them any less funny.
And then suddenly the scenery is swept away before our eyes, and we are transported from a stuffy London townhouse to a flower-filled country garden under a blue summer’s sky. The use of a soaring Strauss waltz to accompany this scene change is inspired, and the fast pace continues as we are introduced to winsome young Cecily (Robyn Cara), her eccentric governess Miss Prism (Melanie Walters) and the pompous Reverend Chasuble (Darren Lawrence). The plot thickens with the unexpected arrivals of Algy, Jack and Gwendolen in quick succession. However the highlight of Act 2 is the vitriolic exchange of pleasantries between Cecily and Gwendolen as they mistakenly believe themselves to be engaged to the same man. A special mention should also go to Nick Harris playing contrasting butlers Lane and Merryman for creating some truly hilarious comic moments.
Before we know it the two sets of young lovers are indoors again as the last Act unfolds. Soon the mystery of Jack’s foundling origins is explained when Lady Bracknell pitches up and Miss Prism’s guilty secret is finally revealed. A happy ending is on the cards for almost everyone, with not just two but three happy couples on stage, as well as Algy and Jack turning out to be long lost brothers.
This production is a joy, richly deserving a 4 star rating, and definitely a feather in the cap of upcoming director Richard Fitch and Theatr Clwyd.