Theatre in Wales

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New Company, New Venue, New Audience

The Importance of Being Earnest

Nanteos Players , Nanteos Mansion , August-27-12
The Importance of Being Earnest by Nanteos Players No-one could accuse this summer’s theatre in Wales of predictability. National Youth Theatre of Wales has foresworn its customary Aberystwyth-Mold-Sherman circuit and opens this year at Chirk Castle. It is an appropriate location as the site of Wales’ first national theatre one hundred years ago. In a nice piece of symmetry the two National Theatres have both done Shakespeare on airfield sites. Llandow and St Athans are five miles apart. Theatre Rue has taken their latest production deep into Corris’ Braich Goch slate mine. And the mansion of Nanteos in its latest form has given birth to a new company.

The three great, dynastic mansions in the Rheidol-Ystwyth area have all had rocky episodes in their histories. Nanteos in 2012 is looking good. When the doors open Lady Bracknell, in a foot wide hat, is already seated on a sofa in the high entrance hall. Waist-coated, wing-collared servants await her imperious call. Gwendolen and Cecily are further back, sharing quiet confidences. With their parasols, swags and costumes in luscious creams they are a Singer Sargent canvas come to life and wholly at home in the freshly re-decorated surroundings.

“The Importance of Being Earnest”, much adored as it is, contains a lot of words. To fit the venue and format the Nanteos Players have adapted it to two acts of equal length. The adaptation and abbreviation works very well. As a play it demands impetus and a sprightly levity. Jenny Boote handles Wilde’s long lines with aplomb. Dozens of piled-up Wildean syllables are delivered with fine breath control and then capped with a touch of erotic frisson for “It produces vibrations.”

Where Jenny Boote’s Gwendolen is seductive, Harriet Taylor’s Cecily is rightly younger, coquettish but percipient. She informs Theresa Jones’ angular Miss Prism that human memory is a highly unreliable substitute for a diary. She draws sharp exception to the attribution of “hopeless” being included in the declaration of love being bestowed on her.

Lady Bracknell is a role that is beloved on the amateur stage but which can easily lose definition. Lynne Baker has a stentorous tone but also that tenor of aristocratic heartlessness or, depending on viewpoint, realism. She has that merciless scent for money, the haughty dismissal of a house that is located the wrong side of Belgrave Square, the irritation of genuineness over Bunbury’s indecisiveness between life and death.

The room for the performance is lit by natural light, courtesy of a vast floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall window. The lighting is assisted by a twenty-four bulb chandelier and four eight-foot high mirrors, The two young men-about-town in Algernon’s flat are able to lean languidly against either end of a ten foot wide marble fireplace. In their matching frock coats they start as elegant japesters. Paris Wharton’s Jack jumps from one complication, largely self-manufactured, to another. He gives the phrase “I know…nothing” the right measure of doubt and testing hesitation. Alex Neil is a thoroughly smooth Algernon but adds a lascivious undertone to his line “I would rather like to see Cecily.”

It has been the company’s intention to divide the performance between house and garden, a scheme thwarted by the week’s squally weather. When Richard Cheshire enters as the Reverend Chasuble he is in summer whites. He wears a spotted bowtie, a flourish of red handkerchief sprouts from his breast pocket, and he has trousers of a glorious, tent-like bagginess. His character is largely a Wildean plot fill-in but he milks to the full the line “These are very joyful tidings” at news of a resurrection in the adjoining room.

The Nanteos Players have brought a familiar play to a new venue in a new format. In doing so they have accomplished something remarkable. The particular strand of performance has created a largely new audience for theatre. With demand for places exceeding capacity “the Importance of Being Earnest” returns to Nanteos in October.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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