Directed by Linsey O’Neill
The Cast of the Importance of Being Earnest
Slideshow is automatic
Photographs by Linsey O’Neill
The Importance of Being Earnest, Wessex Actors Company, Touring Theatre
THE Importance of Being Earnest is Oscar Wilde’s most well-known and best loved play, as well as being an enormous success in his lifetime. It is a farcical comedy about John Worthing (Paul Lawless) and his friend Algernon Moncrief (Toby Trimby) who make up identities. John claims to have a brother Earnest in the city, but actually leads a double life as Earnest himself. Algernon takes on the identity of Earnest to court John’s ward Cecily (Jill Richmond) as John tries to woo Gwendolyn (Lisa Watkinson).
The script is witty and funny and this talented cast do it proud. The actors have a great comedic timing and with deft direction from Linsey O’Neil this was a most enjoyable evening. Linsey set her production in the round which is a very difficult thing to get right and apart from one or two unnecessary moves she pulled it off superbly.
The entire cast worked well together and there was not a weak performance. I would however have liked Veronica Ryder as Lady Bracknell to say ‘A Handbag’ in the time honoured way. Setting this aside the five main characters were excellent and gave lovely performances.
Russell Biles (Canon Chasuble), Pamela Brewer (Miss Prism), Scott Sullivan (Lane) and Chris Walker (Merriman) completed this superb cast.
The costumes enhanced the whole production as did the music
12:51pm Saturday 29th June 2013 in Reviews By Lyn Richell, Daily Echo
The Importance of Being Earnest
Wessex Actors Company on tour
OSCAR Wilde’s “trivial comedy for serious people,” The Importance of Being Earnest, is a perennial on the open air touring circuit, but you won’t see a more sparkling or convincing production than Linsey O’Neill’s for the east Dorset based Wessex Actors Company. Ingeniously devised for a circular performance area that can be adapted for the many venues where it will be seen between now and 28th July, it brings the antics of Jack Worthing, Algernon Moncrieff and the redoubtable Lady Bracknell up close to the audience.
This could expose the performers to the sort of scrutiny that sometimes ruins shows, when the cast is indistinguishably unsuited to the roles for which they are cast, but not here. The company has attracted a first rate ensemble for this very familiar play, and the director has chosen a totally contrasted pair to play the butlers, Lane and Merriman, adding to the hilarity of the evening. Paul Lawless and Toby Trimby, both recent drama school graduates, are quite the best Jack and Algernon I have seen in many productions, their convincingly competitive relationship physically and vocally choreographed to perfection. They are ably matched by Lisa Watkinson and Jill Richmond as their intendeds. Russell Biles and Pamela Brewer capture the guilty joy of Canon Chasuble and Miss Prism, and Veronica Ryder’s elegant and haughty Lady B never dips into the charicature that can surround saying: “.. a handbag!” Wilde’s wonderful bon mots are as fresh as when they were first heard in this lovely touring version. See it at Swanage on 29th or Bridport on 30th June, or at Upton on Saturday 6th, Christchurch on 12th, Kingston Lacy on 13th, Sturminster Newton on 19th, Nothe Fort Weymouth on 20th, Wareham on 21st or Poundbury on 28th July. For details, visit www.wessex-actors-company.co.uk
Gay Pirrie-Weir The Fine Times Recorder
The Importance Of Being Earnest
Round these parts, outdoor theatre is predominantly pulled from the Shakespearian pantry of wonderfulness. It’s become, kind of, expected that the Bard will feed us with our al-fresco cultural smorgasbord. There is no problem with that, but it is somewhat refreshing to have dished out to us something different.
Oscar Wilde’s brittle comedy of manners is un-Bardish enough to be different, yet is still a suitably delightful piece, which, if directed and performed well enough, totally lends itself to outdoor theatre.
Thankfully, in the hands of director Linsey O’Neill and her talented cast and crew, this show works and works well.
I don’t know the play as well as someone who is theatre oriented should, but, when you go and see the play, which I am sure you will, you will read the programme notes and discover all you need to know about the story, initially, and then be guided through it as I was. But, in short, it is a story of changed names, proposals, stolen identities, more than a little aristocratic bitchiness and a handbag.
I was nearly late to the show, so, having sprinted down to the Walled Garden at Upton, erected my chair, I was in a state of stress. Strong performances from the off assuaged my panicked demeanour.
Straight away, I was captivated. From the opening scene, where Scott Sullivan is a suitably Butlerish Butler to Moncrieff (also, a scene change guide. Nicely done), Toby Trimby, energetic and cheeky throughout as Moncrieff and Paul Lawless, delightfully desperate and funny as Jack Worthing, get us into the story.
As the play progresses, I am stunned by the quality on display. Lady Bracknell is a measured battleaxe. Nicely performed by Veronica Ryder, and Lisa Watkinson skilfully gives us all sides of a ladylike, demanding and occasionally bitchy Miss Fairfax.
While I’m with Lady B……..The one thing that unites us all in our knowledge of this play is that iconic two word line, “A Handbag”. The problem with iconic lines is that, when hammed up to appease our expectation, they can so easily become the only bit we remember. Here, Veronica Ryder delivers the whole part very well and as one would expect an overbearing aunt to be. She chooses not to jump out of thread just to deliver “Haaaandbaaaaaaag”. So, the line is still there, and prevalent, but we are kept involved with what we are being told. For my money, that’s the right way to do it.
Later, after one of the scene changes is entertainingly performed by both butlers (we now meet Mr Worthing’s butler, Chris Walker. Think Brabinger from “To the Manor Born” crossed with Old Mr Grace from “Are You being Served” again, nicely done) we meet with Miss Prism, a fine performance from Pamela Brewer, and Miss Cecily Cardew. In this, Jill Richmond excels. Even when her back is turned, every word AND her character shines across. The opening scene of the second half being a particular highlight where she and Miss Fairfax have what can only be described as a “Bitch Off”, which was very funny and just delightful to watch and listen to.
While I’m on that, I should mention that all the cast play to all sides very well and the movement to achieve that is seamless and gives us all a sense of what is going on, without in any way looking deliberate. One thing for cast to look out for will be, on a less still night than tonight, some voices might be lost to the portion of audience who are, albeit temporarily, looking at your back. But, I’m certain that is stating the obvious to these accomplished folk as they are.
Lastly, we are introduced to Reverend Canon Chasuble. I’m used to seeing Russell Biles in more thuggish roles as he pulls those off brilliantly. Here, Dr Chasuble is in very safe hands and, the slightly bumbling, exceptionally likeable character that he is comes across beautifully.
Now, I’m a bloke, and I don’t usually notice costumes, but I did. The costumes and hats were exactly what one would expect these people to be wearing.
What I also noticed was a use of the area outside of the acting and seating, where, sometime, characters that had “gone off to discuss something” actually were there, visible, off somewhere, miming the discussion of something. A very nice touch indeed.
There are plenty of opportunities to go and see this play and I implore you to do so.
Friday 12th July. 7:30pm – Regent Centre, Christchurch
Saturday 13th July, 1pm and 6pm – Kingston Lacy House.
Friday 19 July – 7.30pm – The Exchange, Sturminster Newton
Saturday 20 July – 6pm – Nothe Fort, Weymouth
Sunday 21 July – 1pm and 6pm – SWANS Rugby Club, Wareham
Sunday 28 July – 1pm and 6pm – Poundbury Farm House, Poundbury, Dorchester
The Cast of the Importance of Being Earnest
Russell Biles – Canon Chasuble
Since moving back to Dorset in 2000, Russell has appeared in several local productions including, Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, Canterbury Tales, Nicholas Nickelby, An Inspector Calls and more recently been seen in Mrs Warrens Other Profession, Bell Book and Candle and the Time of My Life for BLTC.
In 2010 Russell was part of a touring version of Bouncers for Arena Theatre for whom he has also appeared in Popcorn, Metamorphosis and Pillowman. With Burnt Toast he is a regular contestant at their “A Night At The Improv” and was part of the companies version “Hancock’s Half Hour”.
It’s been a busy year for Russell who as well as appearing in a selection of Harold Pinter One Act Plays, has completed work on 3 Independent British movies. “Stalled” a Comic Zombie Horror set in a toilet at a Corporate Christmas Party.
He plays a gangster in “Stichd Up” who is out for revenge on a rival group who has taken his Merchandise and he also pops up in “Doorways” which is set in and around Bournemouth.
We are delighted that Russell is joining us again this year after his great performance as ‘Shallow’ in The Merry Wives of Windsor.
Pamela Brewer – Miss Prism
Pamela began her theatre career in Glasgow, where she was born, as a “hoofer” in more musicals than she can remember.
She studied drama at the London Centre for Theatre Studies and graduated into The Actors Company with a rep season of Ibsens “Pillars of Society” at Jermyn street Theatre,Piccadilly.
Since moving to Dorset she has performed in several productions with Arena Theatre including James and the Giant Peach,Smokey Joes Cafe,Popcorn,Calendar Girls and directed Camp Confidence and Ladies Day in 2009.
Her only previous outdoor theatre experience was with Henley Operatic in A Midsummer Nights Dream on the banks of the Thames in a heat wave.
Ah well – here’s hoping!!
Paul Lawless – Jack Worthing
Having dabbled in amateur dramatics and choral singing from an early age, Paul decided to pursue his love of performance by studying Drama and English Literature at Aberystwyth University. Since graduating he decided to pursue his dream of becoming a professional Actor.
In 2012 Paul successfully auditioned for Boundless Theatre’s production of Shakepeare’s Measure For Measure playing Lucio, which ran at the Nuffield Theatre in April. He was then welcomed ‘on-board’ Patchwork Theatre Company’s production of their devised comedy Titanic Sinks Titswilly, as ASM for their Exeter and Edinburgh Fringe run and subsequent tour. During this year he was also employed for a 5 month period at the Rivera Hotel in Weymouth, as vocalist and performer.
Since graduating in 2010, Paul has also pursued a career as a teacher, working with AsOne Theatre Company as Workshop Co-ordinator for their Mary Anning Depot. project which toured Dorset schools. He also took on the role of Drama and Singing Teacher at Julie Story’s ‘Let’s Dance’ School in Weymouth.
Paul has just recently finished touring with Unique Voice Theatre Company for their winter tour; taking their T.I.E production Repeat After Me, part of their Anti-Bullying Triple R scheme and catered workshops, into schools.
Paul is excited at the prospect of performing in an outdoor touring theatre production (weather permitting!) and looks forward to the creative process that lays ahead . . .
Jill Richmond – Cecily Cardew
Jill is never happier than when she is performing and has likened each of her characters to discovering a new friend within. When asked what she liked about acting, Jill unhesitatingly exclaimed, ‘Everything!’
Originally from North London, Jill has performed locally over the last couple of years with Arena Theatre and Wimborne Drama – her favourite characters to date include Eliza Doolittle in Arena Theatre’s Pygmalion and Myra Arundel in Wimborne Drama’s Hay Fever.
When Jill is not acting, learning lines or thinking about acting she is a budding playwright and she hopes one day to complete writing a play which she can see come to life!
Jill is very much looking forward to her first performance with WAC and all the fun that it will bring.
Veronica Ryder – Lady Bracknell
Veronica’s love of ‘centre stage’ began at the age of eight when, as understudy for the role of Princess Aurora, she achieved unexpected glory when the ‘leading lady’ succumbed to chickenpox.
Continuing also with her original role of third-spear-carrier-from-the-left involved some interesting quick costume changes – some more successful than others. (A spear carrier in pink tights and ballet shoes is never going to have an easy career!)
More recently. Veronica has performed locally with Poole & Parkstone Musical Theatre Society and Players, Bournemouth Little Theatre Club and Castle Players. Her favourite role has to be the evil Mrs Danvers in ‘Rebecca’ (“I made poor Mrs de Winter cry every night on stage – but we had a hug afterwards.”).
Veronica is delighted to be performing with WAC – but please don’t mention that haaaandbaaaag!
Scott Sullivan – Lane
Having said (in his Prod Manager biog elsewhere on this site) that he was happy being back stage, Scott now finds himself playing Lane.
Scott says this is fair enough because he just has to say “yes sir” a few times.
Then he gets to stand back and watch the real talent on stage.
Toby Trimby – Algernon
Toby began exploring the world of Theatre at the age of 11, just after realising the imagined world of space was far safer than becoming an actual Astronaut. He has been to outer-space many times as a result.
Having created work with a small group of Actors throughout school and college Toby studied Theatre and Performance at the University of Plymouth and Acting at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts.
Some of the projects he has taken part in include; Time and the Conway’s, Mother Goose, Jack and the Beanstalk, We Will Rock You, the Black Veil and Aladdin.
Toby feels this production has taken him full circle, having performed TIOBE when he was in college 11 years ago. It was a one of the portrayals which did NOT see him pretend he was in space.
Chris Walker – Merriman
Chris lived in Australia for 17 years and graduated from the University of Western Sydney’s theatre school in 1988.
He then acted as a free-lance professional for 4 years including a lengthy stint in ‘A Country Practice’, numerous plays in and around Sydney and also finding time to form a theatre-in-education company touring all over Oz performing a play about Australian politics!
Returning to the UK in 1992, Chris got involved in local theatre in Weymouth performing Pinter, Priestley, panto, Shakespeare amongst lots of other stuff!
He also managed to fit in a winter contract as one of 3 actors-in-residence at Bramhall Hall in Cheshire in 2001 performing seasonal plays for the local community and a tour of the south-west playing Michael Henchard in ‘the Mayor of Casterbridge ‘ for a Taunton -based company in 2005. This will be his second production with Wessex Actors.
Lisa Watkinson – Gwendolen
Lisa has recently returned to Dorset after a period of time spent living in both London and Sydney.
Whilst in London she enjoyed a year well spent at East 15 Acting School where as well as acting, she developed a passion for voice over and presenting.
Lisa has been privileged enough to spend some time on the set of some big budget Hollywood films, but she is at her happiest when involved in theatre productions and is very much looking forward to taking this play around the various outdoor performance spaces Dorset has to offer.
Director – Linsey O’Neill
Having appeared as Titania in A Midsummer Nights Dream and Mistress Quickly in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Linsey was delighted to be asked to direct The Importance of Being Earnest.
Linsey has been acting all her life and has recently turned her hand to directing, following a very successful production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, she is keen to get to work on ‘Earnest’.
Linsey is certain that she can rely on the advice and expertise given by Jo to help her on her WAC directorial debut!