The Importance of Being Earnest Rose Theatre

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Rose Theatre

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Rose Theatre

An evening of fabulous fun.


Who doesn’t love The Importance of Being Earnest? It is, in every respect a marvellous play – malleable and fun, comical and energetic, it’s a dream to act, direct – and watch.  

There were countless adaptations before, yet this version – directed with wit, charm, energy and bravado by Denzel Westley-Sanderson – happens to add to the canon. His intention was to draw attention to the lives of Black Victorians, and he achieved it with great success. The all-Black cast is wonderful across the board, even moreso that this play is a professional theatre debut for two actors. Justice Ritchie and Abiola Owokonira have great chemistry together and complement each other joyfully – Ritchie as more serious, tense John, and Owokonira as fantastically dashing, louche Algernon. Adele James brings a dose of raunch to her Gwendolen and Phoebe Campbell is terrifically energetic as more-than-a-little-naïve Cecily. Valentine Hanson as the two butlers carries most of the show’s physical comedy, even though he only has a few lines. The weakest link appears to be Daniel Jacob aka Vinegar Strokes – as much as casting drag queen as Lady Bracknell was an awesome idea, his jokes doesn’t always land as they should. But it is a minor remark – the cast is a joy to watch.  

Those who prefer more understated takes on Victorian literature will probably be disappointed. Westley-Sanderson’s version of this classic comedy is filled with camp in the best sense possible. At the same time, the attention to detail is remarkable – from the initial choreography sequence introducing characters to the brilliant stage design to period costumes that complement the actors’ natural hairstyles – and this contrast makes the camp work wonders on stage. 

Various figures they form on stage are all visually appealing but also, it seems – highly practical: from every angle in the audience the staging will be very aesthetically pleasing. The costumes (by designer Lily Arnold) are kept in shades of brown and yellow – Cecily and Algernon appear in warm shades whilst John and Gwendolen wear colder shades, so by the play’s finale the visual harmony reaches its peak. It is really rather difficult to go completely wrong with The Importance of Being Earnest but Denzel Westley-Sanderson does more: he goes gloriously right.  

Rose Theatre, until 12 November

Image: 31 Daniel Jacob (Vinegar Strokes) Justice Ritchie and the company of The Importance of Being Earnest. Photo Mark Senior