The Importance of Being Earnest Review – Lichfield Garrick

Manners, Mirth and Muffins!

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’
Lichfield Garrick Main Theatre Tuesday 27 March

The Importance of Being Earnest is not only one of the most famous of Oscar Wilde’s plays but also has one of the most famous retorts in the British Theatre…’A Haaanndbaaag’ has been uttered on many occasions, by many leading actresses and by thousands of theatre-goers over the decades!
This production is playing at the main theatre at the Lichfield Garrick this week, until Saturday 31 March and has a delightful cast with a host of well-known television, theatre and movie stars including Gwen Taylor (Duty Free, Coronation Street), Susan Penhaligon (Bouquet of Barbed Wire, A Fine Romance) and Thomas Howes (Downton Abbey).
Earnest was first performed on stage in 1895 but it not old fashioned or staid, it may be from the Victorian era but I am certain it definitely would have amused Queen Victoria! The play is part comedy, part farce and part Wilde lampooning the classes, morals and manners of the strict code of the day.
In terms of the plot, both leading men, Jack (Ernest) and Algernon (Bunbury) have two sets of christian names which they use to their advantage when they want to ‘disappear’ from the straitjacket of their responsibilities. When their respective aliases are uncovered this causes confusion, misunderstandings, faux-pas and double-takes. However, the tangled lives become untangled and there is a ‘happily ever after’ ending where Jack-Ernest discovers the true importance of being earnest!
As is customary with Wilde there are a whole host of fabulous, witty, pithy, caustic lines and has a veritable fountain fall of double-entendres that it is difficult to keep up with them all!
Coupled with these fantastic lines the very strong cast form a formidable partnership, Gwen Taylor is just fantastic as Lady Bracknell, her experience and stage craft shine through, Susan Penhaligon and Geoff Aymer are very funny as ‘are-they-aren’t-they’ potential lovers and Peter Sandys-Clarke and Thomas Howes as Jack and Algy make great sparring partners as they both accuse each other of abusing their twin Christian name privileges, chase each other round the stage and fire off wonderful muffin-encrusted one line insults! Howes’ interpretation of the upper class Algernon is reminiscent of part Billy Bunter, part Mr Pickwick and it is definitely worth looking at his expressions and mannerisms whenever he is on stage. Hannah Louise Howell plays feisty, stand up for herself Gwendolen (you can imagine her as a potential suffragette!) and Louise Coulthard is ditzy, kooky Cicely Cardew who pops and fizzes across the stage, leaping and bouncing about and has a fabulous Miranda Richardson-esque squeal! Judith Rae and Simon Shackleton complete the cast providing strong support as the mischievous maid and long suffering hang-dog expression butler.
This is the latest of a number of performances of the play around the country and it shows – this is a slick, polished and razor sharp production, both from the cast and the ‘behind the scenes’ team, the play is produced by The Original Theatre Company. It’s got a stellar cast whose sheer professionalism comes to the fore, a witty, sharp-as-a-tack script from the brilliant, albeit ill-fated Oscar Wilde, with enough classic comedy lines to last you a lifetime let alone one evening.
If you go and see one show this year then I’d make it The Importance of Being Earnest – I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

The Importance of Being Earnest is on until Saturday 31 March, tickets are priced from £23.50 to £27.50 and available from the Garrick Box Office on Castle Dyke, ring 01543 412121 or from their website:
www.lichfieldgarrick.com/whats-on/drama/the-importance-of-being-earnest/111

The Full Monty at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall 20 March 2018 – Review

The Full Monty by the Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company – Monday 20 to Saturday 24 March 2018

This year the Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company celebrate their 85th birthday – and there’s no better way to see what they’ve achieved over the last 85 years than with their latest production of The Full Monty!
Formed in 1933 its opening performance was Maritana, a three part Victorian opera by William Wallace, the company has performed at the old Civic Hall in Lichfield as well as, more recently, the Garrick theatre but this performance was back in its spiritual home of the Sutton Coldfield Town Hall.
Their 2018 production of The Full Monty is, I’m sure, a massive change from their first production and would have undoubtedly shocked their 1933 audiences but, judging by the reaction of the audience at Tuesday’s opening night, they were shocked with delight and not outrage!
The stage play is based upon the British film of 1997 but this is the American stage version of it, initially performed on Broadway – so the action (and the accents!) moves from the steel city of Sheffield to the steel city of Buffalo, New York State.
The story should be well known to most, partly because of the famous time that Prince Charles joined the cast in the unemployment queue in the film version. It’s about 6 unemployed steel workers who decide to become male strippers to raise some much needed cash – and agree to bare everything as they claim to go ‘full monty’ at their one and only performance in front of 1000 screaming women!
The closing ‘reveal’ is what most people know this play and film for – but it’s definitely more than that as it’s a story of broken dreams, lost love, friendship, romance, inner peace, frustration and joy. There are several plots and sub-plots running through the play as we see these amateur strippers-to-be struggle to learn their moves and struggle with the very idea that they will reveal their manhood in the most public of places.
The cast is led by Phil Bourn as Jerry Lukowksi, the chief engineer of the plan, who I last saw in South Pacific at the Garrick, who has a strong, melodic voice and displays both strength as the leader of the gang but also has some very tender moments with his young son Nathan played with impish charm by Ethan Bowley.  Ben Green is loveable lug Dave Bukatinsky (Buffalo has a large population of Polish immigrants) who has a number of great self-deprecating lines and throw-away gags and who struggles deciding whether to take part in the show at all or continue his new career as a deeply unhappy night security guard. Ben Adams, another stalwart of the Garrick shows who I saw in Our House, plays Ethan Girard who has a fascination with the character Donald O’Connor played in Singin in the Rain and who flipped backwards while running up a wall – a feat which Ethan tries to replicate…and fails…and fails…and fails…it’s a great running gag and one which would certainly leave Ben a bit bruised and bashed about this morning! Patrick Jervis plays nerdy loner and mother’s boy Malcolm McGregor who has some fabulous ‘moves and grooves’ in a knitted cardy but who also displays great warmth and sensitivity when his elderly ma dies and in a touching fledgling relationship with best pal Ethan. The steelers’ six are completed by ageing hoofer Noah T Simmons whose unrequited nickname is ‘Horse’, played by a very agile Fidel Lloyd and finally the guys’ old boss, Harold Nichols, played by Rob Fusco who has keeps the news of his redundancy secret from his wife for six months!  As usual with the SCMTC there is a really strong ensemble cast and they all perform with their customary verve and enthusiasm – and one of my highlights of any of their shows is when everyone is on stage ‘going for it’ and you can see the very clear family bond that they all have – that 85 years’ background of local theatre heritage and experience is very much on display here.
The show songs are perhaps not well known but there is a lovely mix of upbeat singalong numbers such as the closing Let it Go and It’s a Woman’s World to moving duets You Rule My World (two handers here, the men with Dave and Harold and then their female partners reprise the song in Act Two with Georgie and Vicki) and then to the very emotional Breeze Off the River by Jerry and You Walk With Me by Malcolm and Ethan, both of which definitely touch the heartstrings.
There are lovely inventive dance routines, with choreography by Jenny Morris, very assured directing from Paul Lumsden (and having seen the dress rehearsal on Monday night I can bear witness to the skill of the director in tweaking and changing certain routines and scenes in just 24 hours) and a pulsating score from the ‘behind the scenes’ orchestra with musical direction by Sheila Pearson.
The Full Monty should not be thought of as just a one trick pony (or Horse!) of the final reveal (though it is great fun and skilfully executed here) – it’ a comedy, a tragedy, a love story, a story of friendship and heartache, it’s funny, it’s uplifting and inspiring. It’s much more about the relationships of everyday people struggling to get by another day than it is about the dropping of boxer shorts.

85 years on the Sutton Coldfield Musical Theatre Company are still entertaining audiences with their love for the theatre – values change, standards change, cast members change and show locations change but one thing remains constant…you will always see an entertaining, enjoyable and professional show at the SCMTC.
*Please note that as well as the ‘reveal’ scenes there is some strong, adult, language in the show.

Help the SCMTC celebrate their 85th birthday by going to see The Full Monty at the Sutton Coldfield Town Hall, running until Saturday 24 March 2018. For ticket details please see the Town Hall website: www.townhallsuttoncoldfield.co.uk