(Seen at the performance on 6th July 2015).
Philip Cumbus as Algernon comes in "all guns blazing" to open the performance
on an overly-exuberant note. This causes Michael Benz (John) to react at the
same level, and the arrival of substantial David Suchet as a near-pantomime Lady
Bracknell threatens to sink the show before it really gets going.
Monkey advice is to "stick with it." It may be just down to early-run
enthusiasm, or something director Noble needs to take a look at, but if it can
gel with the second and third acts, this will rise from 4 to an easy 5 stars.
As (so women say) usual, it is down to the real ladies to take the show up
several levels in class. Act 2 opens with the definitive Miss Prism in Michele
Dotrice, and Chasuble, Richard O Callaghan, two acting veterans putting their
all into beautiful performances. It is, though, the interaction of Imogen Doel
and Emily Barber as Cecily and Gwendolen which truly engages the audience for
the rest of the night. Their petulant squabble over Earnests is so perfectly
played that the audience didn't want it to end. Ms Doel's deft lob (and
delighted schoolgirl celebration of it) alone deserve a photograph in the
It is after this that their suitors come into their own. By the end of the
run, Cumbus may no longer be able to face a muffin, but for the moment, all the
tea-party lacked was a... no... it actually had a pair of them...
Act three brings the whole together, and we also get the best of Mr Suchet.
The problem, once past the pantomime element, is that he is actually bulky.
Physically occupying a lot more of the stage than a woman perhaps should, at
times. This is a delicate reading of the play - one of the cleanest of
superfluous ideas the monkey has seen, so the central cross-dressing conceit
seems all the more indulgent for it. Still, accept it; and anyone who can ignore
a rather obvious - seriously scene ruining - sound cue deserves respect.
With Peter McKintosh providing well designed set and costumes, and reliable
Howard Harrison on lighting and Gareth Owen on sound, it's every inch a
sophisticated production justifying the West End ticket price.
Perfect for a warm summer evening, and the audience were enthralled. Do go,
you will be too.