Friday 9 December 2016

Theatre: Wilde's social mischief decoded by Mason in a most masterly fashion

Smooth, frothy and vicious as a rapier, writes our reviewer of Patrick Mason's Gate production.

Emer O'Kelly

Published 07/12/2015 | 02:30

Oustanding: Patrick Mason's cast is led by Rory Nolan, Marty Rea, Lisa Dwyer Hogg as Lady Bracknell, and Marion Dwyer as Miss Prism.
Oustanding: Patrick Mason's cast is led by Rory Nolan, Marty Rea, Lisa Dwyer Hogg as Lady Bracknell, and Marion Dwyer as Miss Prism.

In his programme note for Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest at the Gate in Dublin, director Patrick Mason writes that the play, one 120 years after its first performance, has become quite simply one of the most loved and most performed plays in the repertoire.

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The statement is (possibly unintentionally) double-edged. One could be inclined to think: "Not bloody Wilde AGAIN at the Gate."

Except that Patrick Mason is aware of his responsibilities as a director: he is as incapable of going for easy options as he is of going for easy laughs. The result is indeed "a trivial play for serious people" - or, of course, the reverse.

The production is as smooth as silk, as frothy as candyfloss, and as vicious as a rapier. (Forgive the clichés, but they truly do leap to mind.) And in addition, with the magic of Mason's approach, every possibility of hidden meaning also leaps from the stage.

When in Act One, Gwendolen tells Jack that she loves him because his name is Earnest, and adds, "It is a divine name… it produces (pause) vibrations", the line is positively filthy.

But underneath runs the theme of the secret code of social status: the penniless Algy is effectively a wastrel, but is eligible and will always be certain of a place in society thanks to his lineage. While Jack Worthing is a JP, for all his chicanery and double life, he is also a profoundly philanthropic and generous human being, yet is on the edge of being cast out thanks to his lack of similar lineage.

The theme is there and the play romps on. In this case, the romping is headed superbly by Marty Rea as Jack: he inhabits every nuance of the character without even a breath of the caricature which so often ruins a Wildean performance. He is hardly less ably supported by a slightly Machiavellian Rory Nolan as Algy, while Lorna Quinn as a flower-like Cecily and Lisa Dwyer-Hogg as an incipiently unpleasant Gwendolen are perfect foils, rather than being interchangeable parrots.

Deirdre Donnelly gamely brings individuality to the many times foreshadowed Lady Bracknell. In the same on-stage generation, there are two gems of performance from Marion O'Dwyer as Miss Prism and Mark Lambert as Canon Chasuble.

Finally, Mason gives full play to imagination in dealing with "below stairs" by enlarging Lane (Bosco Hogan) and Merriman (Des Keogh) to essential elements in the piece.

Francis O'Connor's ingenious set, with extending shelving used to portray elements of the lives of the characters, is both a visual delight and a suggestive satire for those with eyes to see. It's lit by Sinead McKenna, with sound by Denis Clohessy.

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