REVIEW CLASSIC THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 20 Nov ●●●●●

Oscar Wilde’s most celebrated comedy is one of those rep theatre staples that is almost guaranteed to bring in a sympathetic audience. The play is so familiar, in both its premise and as a vehicle for its creator’s witticisms, that you can almost hear the audience around you preparing to laugh even before the famous lines have been spoken. In Mark Thomson’s recent production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Lyceum an audible ripple of excitement runs around the auditorium as we approach Lady Bracknell’s outraged ‘A handbag?’ How is Alexandra Mathie, playing the formidable matriarch, going to tackle one of the best-known lines in the popular theatre? In the flamboyantly withering manner of an Edith Evans or in a more understated way?

For all its consummate construction and sparkling dialogue, Earnest can easily be derailed by performances that don’t quite strike the right balance

between straight playing and camp. Much has been made of the fact that Thomson is using virtually the same cast here as in the Lyceum’s recent production of Romeo and Juliet, yet this ensemble seems tailor- made for Wilde’s fruity farce. Mathie and Melody Grove (as Lady Bracknell’s self-confident daughter Gwendolen) are particularly comfortable with the verbose dialogue, giving poised, relaxed performances, while Sean Murray and Cara Kelly are equally compelling in the supporting roles Canon Chasuble and the governess Miss Prism. Thomson’s production is also enriched by the inclusion of the ‘lost’ fourth act: scenes hastily removed by Wilde at the behest of his original producers. The scene, in which Algernon (in the guise of Earnest) is pursued by the solicitor Gribsby for debts racked up by Jack (playing Earnest) further complicates the web of deceit woven by the feckless leads, while Wilde satirical lampooning of grasping solicitors and the threat of imprisonment against Algernon, is a chilling reminder of the playwright’s own sad fate shortly after this play’s completion. (Allan Radcliffe)


REVIEW CLASSIC A DOLL’S HOUSE Dundee Rep, until Sat 6 Nov ●●●●●

Adapter Samuel Adamson and director Jemima Levick have hit on an inspired conceit in updating Ibsen’s early feminist play from late-19th century Oslo to the early 1960s. As well as choosing an era noted for its changing social and political mores, the milieu familiar to current audiences from the hit TV show Mad Men and films such as Far From Heaven does more to emphasise the restrictive role of women at the time than any tinkering with the text could. As well as the tight-waisted skirts

and figure-hugging dresses and sweaters worn by Emily Winter’s Nora Helmer, the indulged housewife who committed forgery in order to secure a loan when her husband was ill, Alex Lowde’s sharp-angled modernist house set, whose façade slides open to reveal what is going on in every room, makes a fitting cage for Nora as her predicament intensifies. Colin Grenfell’s lighting design also further heightens the tension, pinning Nora into corners of the set.

The well-known final act of A Doll’s House, in which the scales fall from Nora’s eyes and she realises that her first duty in life is to herself, is particularly powerful in Levick’s production, largely thanks to moving performances, from Winter and Neil McKinven as her uncomprehending husband, Torvald. (Allan Radcliffe)

REVIEW ADAPTATION SPRING AWAKENING Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sat 13 Nov ●●●●●

Boldly returning to Frank Wedekind’s original play in the wake of the enormous success of the Tony-winning musical Spring Awakening, Douglas Maxwell, together with Grid Iron and the Traverse, has created a fresh, creative and relevant new adaptation that keeps the action in its original fin-de-siècle moment, but moves it from Germany to Calvinist Scotland. The action starts in the classroom, and the chalkboard motif established there is carried

throughout the production with a number of imaginative little touches that bring a smile with their ingenuity while also clearly conveying a meaning: the outline of a coffin drawn on the stage becomes the centre of a powerful funeral scene, that of a bed the perimeter of temptation as a husky older woman tries to seduce a teenager.

Maxwell’s adaptation has captured the clumsy poetry of teenagers waxing lyrical about

their hopes and dreams and as ever in teenage life, the comic and the tragic rub up against each other with an unnerving closeness. Rather than dragging this story kicking and screaming into the present day (or filling it with oddly anachronistic and trite alt.rock anthems, for that matter), Maxwell and Grid Iron have left it kicking and screaming in its original context, well aware that the petulance and lust of adolescence never goes out of date. The language, while not exactly of the period, feels believable in the mouths of these teenagers from a time before teenagers officially existed, and leaves you wondering if, even now it has been given a name and prodded and studied, the transition from childhood to adulthood has got any easier. (Laura Ennor)

84 THE LIST 4–18 Nov 2010