Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at: www.urbaneguerilla.wordpress.com
Published June 21st 2015
An elegant, cultured romp through good society
Generally speaking, I don't care for reviews that run 'very good, considering' because they tend to be condescending and patronising. The written equivalent of a pat on the head.
Good is good and bad is bad and that's all there is to it. However, having said that, you do, as a critic, have to take into account various relevant factors when commenting on a production.
Jade Atkinson as Lady Bracknell (Photograph by K Twynam-Perkins)
Helena College in Darlington has an excellent reputation for their theatrical productions and The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the finest plays in the English language so the combination of the two has to be enticing.
This was not a school production, but the Year 11 Drama Class's production, which means that out of the twenty-five or so sixteen year old students in the class they had to find a cast of eight, backstage crew, wardrobe, properties, programme designers and so on.
And they had to rehearse, build the set, prepare and master some of the most intricate prose ever written as well as juggle homework, classwork, sport, music and all the other attendant time consumers in any teenager's life.
Jack Worthing (Stefan Brown), Dougald Cairns (Canon Chasuble and Louise Mifflin (Miss Prism) in Helena College's The Imortance of Being Earnest (Photograph by K Tywnam-Perkins)
To have succeeded as well as they did in such a remarkably short rehearsal time is a tribute to their dedication and raw talent.
Director and drama teacher Kristen Twynam-Perkins chose to set the play in 1955 instead of the more traditional 1895, for no real advantage other than, I expect, the undying gratitude of the wardrobe department.
The costumes were very elegant and attractive, and for me, nostalgic, although if you're sixteen, 1955 is as about as remote as 1895. Parallels were drawn between the current TV show Mad Men and Victorian mores of artificial greed and intrigue, but the words were left untouched, so Gwendoline, in rather a nice shirt-waister still had to wait in the carriage.
Taylor-Rose Price as Cecily Cardew (Photograph by K Twynam-Perkins)
The cast were all self-possessed, comfortable on stage and urbane. First night nerves were evident, understandably, but as soon as they settled down in the warmth of the audience's approval they were fine.
Generally speaking the actors did an excellent job of the careful English of the script, but I must mention two words that were less happily treated. Chasuble is pronounced 'Chas-ooble' (it's a church vestment) not Chaws-ooble and the Quixotic is pronounced 'Qwix-otic', not 'Key-hotic', although I do absolutely agree that it's illogical since the character's name is pronounced 'Key-hout-ay'.
The levels of energy were remarkable and it was by far the most energetic Earnest of my experience. The big Cigarette Case Chase was vigourous and fast.
Given the limited choice available Kristin was very fortunate in her cast, each was as good as if she had hundreds of candidates to select from. Lady Bracknell (Jade Atkinson) was tall, elegant, intensely aristocratic with her chin well elevated and a neck that any swan would envy.
The actors playing Algy (Noah Watkins) and Jack/Earnest (Stefan Brown) beautifully portrayed the friendship between the two and worked smoothly together.
Muffins at five paces Noah Watkins (Algernon) and Stefan Brown (Jack) (Photograph by K Twynam-Perkins)
There were some script walkabouts, only natural given the short rehearsal period, but no-one cared although I do think it will be some time before Noah will be allowed to forget 'having Shropshireed all over Bunbury' rather than the reverse.
Gwendoline (Lucia Mitchell) was gorgeous in her fifties finery and her interaction with Cecily (Taylor-Rose Price) during the big Cake Fight Scene was just lovely.
It has become rather a conceit in recent years for the same actor to play both butlers - Lane and Merriman. This happened here with Conner Robson differentiating between the two with the addition of a rather fetching Fair Isle jumper for Merriman.
Lady Bracknell (Jade Atkinson) has a quiet word with Mr Worthing (Stefan Brown) (Photograph by K Twynam-Perkins)
Louise Mifflin as Miss Prisim and Dougald Cairns as the good Canon were delightful together but for me, in a strongly ensemble cast the stand out was Taylor-Rose Price as Cecily. I don't know if she has a theatrical career in mind, but she could quite comfortably have a great future ahead of her if she so chose.
I pass this along simply for information, not in any spirit of criticism.
The evening was, like Cecily's weather, 'charming' and highly enjoyable and the cast, crew and production team have my admiration and thanks.