The folly of two gentlemen living double lives to avoid responsibilities is exposed in various comedic twists and turns. Jack lives in the country, and escapes to the city as ‘Ernest’, whilst Algernon lives in the city, and escapes to the country to visit a fictional friend called Bunbury, who always seems to be conveniently ill. Jack loves the beautiful Miss Fairfax, but is distraught to learn that it is his invented name ‘Ernest’ that draws her to him. Though Miss Fairfax accepts his proposal for marriage, her mother, Lady Bracknell, denies her permission to "marry into a cloakroom and form an alliance with a parcel", as Ernest's whole family history consists of being found in a handbag in the Victoria station cloakroom.
On his next Bunburying jaunt, Algernon goes to Jack’s country house posing as Ernest, whom the residents have never met but believe to be Jack’s errant younger brother. He falls in love with Cecily, Jack’s beautiful young ward, who has already decided she must marry Ernest based on Jack’s descriptions. And so they fall in love and he proposes. Miss Fairfax arrives in search of her Ernest, and hilarity ensues as the thinly veiled niceties give way to downright nastiness as the girls discover they are both engaged to ‘Ernest’. Jack and Algernon soon arrive, and clear up the confusion and win back their affections by both promising to be re-christened as Ernest. The final piece of the puzzle is the discovery that Jack and Algernon are actually brothers, and that an absent minded nanny left him in the train station 28 years earlier. Of course, Lady Bracknell can then give her approval to their marriage as he is her own family. Jack, with his newfound family tree then discovers that his was originally named after his father, Ernest. So he had been ‘earnest’ all along. Ooh the double entendre – delightful.
There were two sets – simple and elegant, one for each act. A few key pieces of furniture, along with interesting canvasses and the all important tea (steaming hot, how civilized) and cakes set the scene. The ever-so-posh accents of the cast were wickedly funny, and the cast was superb. There were a few line fluffs, but nothing serious enough to detract from the performance. Either through excellent casting, excellent acting or both, the personalities and appearance of the characters was spot on. The youth of Cecily, the elegance and beauty of Gwendolen, the absurdity of Algernon and the brashness of Jack were perfect.
This production by the Tomahawk Theatre Company does justice to one of Wilde’s comedic masterpieces. They expertly bring to life the wittiness and satire of his writing for a very funny and professional performance. It’s definitely worth going, if you can manage to get a ticket – several of the performances are already sold out!