The Importance of Being Earnest, The Musical currently playing at the Riverside Studios Hammersmith, turns out to be a nice little Christmas surprise. The show with a book by Douglas Livingstone and score by Adam McGuinness and Zia Moranne takes Oscar Wilde's play and turns it into a brisk and witty affair that captures the essence of the comedy while feeling like a distinct show in its own right.
The music updates the story to the 1920s and is a mix of styles of the time. What is most remarkable is how the music manages to propel the story along rather than get in the way. It captures the period nicely while adding some additional shadings to the characters which dare I say make them a little more sympathetic than in Wilde's play.
Actor/broadcaster/writer/former politician Gyles Brandreth headlines the show as a mildly masculine Lady Bracknell. While Brandreth in the role might make you assume there is a touch of panto to the proceedings, he is not doing drag. His fully realised and gravelly characterisation is delivered with an obvious affection to the source material, and you get a sense he is fulfilling a curious lifelong dream to play this part. I was half wondering given the production has denied an older actress the chance of playing the best character in the play whether the gender balance would be redressed by having one of the dandies played by a female but this was not to be.
While the rest of the cast are good, Susie Blake as Miss Prism and Edward Petherbridge as Dr Chasuble give the production an added touch of class. Particularly as they coyly sing about love and deftly handle some tricky lyrics about the "Muse that made me abuse my station, The very Muse that lit the fuse of my creation."
All told it is good fun and a nice diversion for the holidays. And be sure to check out James Alexander Matthews bronze sculpture of Lady Bracknell in the foyer. Brandreth has been captured in bronze for posterity! It finishes on 31 December, catch it if you can...