Wilde’s comic play with a new twist

Some of the cast from The Importance of Being Earnest, from left Martin Jarvis, Cherie Lunghi, Nigel Havers and Sian Phillips at The Cadogan Hotel. Picture by Mary McCartney
Some of the cast from The Importance of Being Earnest, from left Martin Jarvis, Cherie Lunghi, Nigel Havers and Sian Phillips at The Cadogan Hotel. Picture by Mary McCartney
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Actors Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis first appeared in Oscar Wilde’s comedy The Importance Of Being Earnest 32 years ago. But they always hankered after reviving their roles as the dandified womaniser Algernon Montcrieff and respected magistrate Jack Worthing.

Fast forward to 2014 and the impossible has happened - with a little help from writer Simon Brett, writes Anne Cox.

The new version of The Importance Of Being Earnest, starring Nigel’s acting friends (pictured), has been a huge hit in the West End with audiences cheering wildly at the end of each performance.

Now on a brief national tour it comes to the Waterside for a week from Monday.

But hang on, in this witty play set in Victorian England aren’t Algie and Jack supposed to be in their 20s?

I met up with the charming Mr Havers before seeing the show and yes, ladies, he’s every bit as smooth as his well established reputation.

He may not pass for mid-20s any more but it’s no wonder Audrey Roberts fell for him as the suave rotter Lewis Archer in Coronation Street recently.

He said: “In order to do this play – which we’re all far too old to do – we had to have a framework around it.

“So I devised this idea of the Bunbury Company of Players”.

The premise is that an am-dram group meets up every few years to perform Wilde. The company consists of Havers as womaniser Richard Oldfield, Jarvis, Cherie Lunghi, Siân Phillips, Rosalind Ayres, Niall Buggy, Patrick Godfrey and Christine Kavanagh.

They arrive at the Hertfordshire country house home of Lavinia Spelman (Phillips) who plays a quite magnificent Lady Bracknell, for a final rehearsal.

The preamble to the final run-through is ripe with comedy and includes Jarvis’s rather theatrical Anthony Scottney quaffing Lavinia’s booze instead of stage alcohol, thespian pretentiousness from former professional actress Maria Clifford (Lunghi) plus an up-to-date reference to a certain steamy paperback.

Slowly the performance morphs into the real thing. I found it clever, engaging, hilariously funny and thoroughly entertaining.

Mr Havers said: “There’s a real charm to the whole piece.”

The Importance of Being Earnest is on at the Waterside from Monday October 6 until Saturday 11 with evening performances at 7.30pm.

Additional matinee performances will take place on Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm.

Tickets cost from £10, box office 0844 871 7607.