Take two distinguished actors, Ryan Bennett playing Graham de Hare and Aidan Harkins as Kevin McKinnon, and have them play all the roles in Wilde’s magnificent comedy and the immediate result is a laugh out loud riot that is just sensational.
The beauty of Wilde’s style and command of the English language is at the forefront of this adaptation. Quick costume changes – which these two were expert at – and the forced facial expressions were a perfect embodiment of Edwardian drawing room elegance and the fine salons of the emerging bourgeoisie that Wilde clearly loathed in this play.
The wit of the well rounded dialogue uttered by Bennett and Hopkins is delivered with a crisp, clean and clear elocution at the highest level. This is a story of seduction not by the men but by the women in manners, social climbing and acute snobbery; a wonderful look at how the tables are turned.
The farcical elements of the proceedings, of which there are many, give the play a distinctive groove especially when the character of Lady Bracknell enters and she goes through the list of what will make an acceptable suitor and husband.
There is the need by the audience, now on tenterhooks concentrating as to how Wilde’s immortal line ‘A handbag?’ will be delivered. This time around it’s right on point as Harkins presents the line in a muted whisper deliberately shaping his mouth and placing a huge forced grimace on his face that was pure genius.
These two actors have fine comic timing coursing through their veins which makes this an exceptionally charming performance. We are reminded about the rules and regulations on behaviour that were strictly enforced in that time. The electricity between the two leads does not diminish; in fact it heightens with the energy which is exhilarating to witness. Also between the two of them they have a firm grasp on what Wilde in a lot of his plays achieved, that when he explores the topic of sexual attraction he knew how to make his ardent fans read between the lines.
This is a wonderful homage to Wilde, outrageously good, punchy and the fact that Bennett and Harkins have a lust to perform has to be admired. Their tenacity and bravery to take this on gets them a standing ovation. I found the whole night to be actually very homoerotic which I might hazard a guess Wilde would of approved of. Skilfully and succinctly directed by Bryan Hodgson who knew precisely what he was doing in bringing this Earnest to the stage. Unique indeed!
Photos by John Webb Carter