The Lyric Hammersmith return to the theatre tent for the first time in five years with this irreverent, iconoclastic and deeply disrespectful celebration of the genius of Oscar Wilde. Director Sean Holmes wrangles The Great British Bake Off’s, Mel Giedroyc and a dishevelled comedian, Ed Gaughan, to take on the extreme acting challenge of playing every character in Wilde’s masterpiece. Expect the worst in the best possible way.
If you came to the Lyric Hammersmith’s performance of The Importance of Being Ernest expecting anything close to a performance of the Oscar Wilde classic then you would be sorely disappointed.
This is the most irreverent, crazy and satirical version of the play that has possibly ever been created. I imagine it has been very recently devised as they jumped firmly on the Brexit satire bandwagon and made the play much more The Importance of Being English. I will also draw attention here to the lowdown above, taken from the Latitude website, which is frankly a barefaced lie, as this was not the two-hander it implies that it is (there were 5 actors) and Mel and Ed most definitely did not attempt to play every character in the play!!
Mel Giedroyc of ‘Bake Off’ fame is Lady Bracknell, and she starts the play by going off on some Brexit rants justifying her Leave position. It is funny but quite clichéd at the same time, talking as it does about the immigrants who run our corner shops and clean our houses, and not acknowledging the immigrants over here with more professional jobs as well.
The show is a completely chaotic mess, with Gwendolyn and Cecily having a seemingly unprovoked fight with cucumber sandwiches very early on, and scenes with the butler are frequently interrupted by him switching out of character and ranting about foreigners coming over and stealing our jobs.
This show was extremely poorly structured (in that there wasn’t one), bore almost no resemblance to the play it claimed to be, and was packed to the gunnels with stereotyped characters. However, all that being said, I really enjoyed it and found it very funny.
This was a very polarising show, lots of people walked out, and afterwards I heard a few heated debates amongst friends who completely disagreed about its merits (or lack of them.) However, the reason I liked it so much was that it offered a catharsis of sorts. I am sure after the political horror show that has been Brexit and its aftermath I am not alone in feeling utterly lost and bereft. It was therefore something of a balm to have a silly satire confirming that I am not alone and that there are still good people in the world (many of them those laughing along with this play).
High-brow theatre this is not, nor is it even clever satire, but in the face of such awfulness sometimes there is little else to do but laugh and poke fun, which this play allowed us to do in spades.