The Importance of Being Earnest

Aug 16 2023 | By More

★★★☆☆     Spirited

The Royal Scots Club (Venue 241): Mon 14 – Sat 19 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Arkle’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest at the Royal Scots Club has a headlong momentum that impresses, even if it is not always ideally suited to the play.

Wilde’s comedy of manners, double lives and satire of Victorian morals is directed by Catriona Bone with spark and energy. The deceptions and misunderstandings are done at a pace that would benefit any farce.

Catriona Bone, Rosella Elphinstone, Steven Bradley Croall and James Cumming in The Importance of Being Earnest. Pic: Rob Shields

This points up the only real problem with this production – unfortunately it is potentially a quite a serious one. It is quite something to fit Earnest into one of the shorter time slots most people expect now at the Fringe; to get through it in just over an hour and a half with only minor cuts is certainly an achievement. However, this is partly done by taking it at such an unrelenting pace.

The effect is breathless at times, with some of the dialogue on the point of being gabbled. When so much of the humour comes from the language, the wordplay and the observations, this can be a real drawback. The jokes also suffer from any laughter that they provoke being trodden on severely by the next line following so close on its heels. Many of the witticisms may be very familiar, but the audience still wants time to relish them, and that opportunity is lacking here.

drive and spirit

What is lost in clarity is certainly made up for in drive and spirit, however. The performances in general both convince and charm. Steven Bradley Croall’s Jack (or Ernest, as he is known in the town) has a mischievous glee that comes close to being overplayed at times but is always rooted in the comedy.

James Cumming, Helen E. Nix and Catriona Bone in The Importance of Being Earnest. Pic: Rob Shields

James Cumming’s Algernon, his friend and fellow follower of multiple identities, has an agreeable loucheness that is highly pleasing. At first, there may be a hint of the coded undercurrent many have found in the business about secret existences and ‘Bunburying’, but this is quickly abandoned in a production that plays things straight.

There is more steel to Bone’s Gwendolen than is often the case, which makes her a commendably rooted figure. Cecily (Rosella Elphinstone) is conversely much more flighty, constantly posing and demanding attention in a performance of poised physicality.

Helen E. Nix’s Lady Bracknell is suitably forbidding and imperious, with a tone that instantly suggests command. Suzanne Senior (Miss Prism) and Pat Hymers (Rev Chasuble) benefit from being given more space and time than the young lovers to deliver their lines.


That a slower pace can work wonders is seen in the performance of Alistair Wales, who comes close to stealing the show as the two servants, who appear positively lugubrious in comparison to others. His Lane comes across as even posher than his employer, while Merriman seems to be channelling Jarvis Cocker at his most downbeat.

Due attention is paid to the staging, with John Weitzen’s lighting and the sound of Craig Robertson and Rob Shields proving effective. The selection of music hall standards played before the show is a particularly clever touch.

The breakneck nature of the production is always going to be a little unsatisfactory, but there is still so much here to enjoy.

Running time: One hour and 40 minutes (no interval)
The Royal Scots Club (Hepburn Suite), 29-31 Abercromby Place, EH3 6QE (Venue 241)
Monday 14 – Saturday 19 August 2023
Daily at 8.30 pm
Tickets and details Book here.

Company website:

Facebook: @ArkleTheatreCompany 

Suzanne Senior and Pat Hymers in The Importance of Being Earnest. Pic: Rob Shields



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.