Wilde hilarity as Earnest goes missing in Oscar classic on the Portsmouth stage

The Importance of Being... Earnest? Credit-Dylan Silk (Photo: Dylan Silk)
The Importance of Being... Earnest? Credit-Dylan Silk (Photo: Dylan Silk)

No matter how many times you have seen The Importance of Being Earnest, you will never ever have seen it quite like this – and you will never ever see it quite like this again.

There is genius in the conception and in the delivery as Say It Again, Sorry take Oscar Wilde’s great classic and reinvent it before our very eyes with a mischievousness which would have left even the great Oscar purring with pleasure.

The premise is that it all starts normally enough as the company starts to go Wilde, but when a key actor doesn’t turn up, the company, after plenty of fumblings and ditherings, decides to rope in a replacement from the audience. And then guess what, someone else is required. And then someone else again. And so it goes on… And you can see the logic. The company are “needing” actors, and there is a vast pool of people sitting there just gawping at them with absolutely nothing else to do.

By the end, rather miraculously, we do indeed get to enjoy The Importance of Being Earnest, though you will be wondering all the way home just how precisely it happened. But the starting point is that the volunteers are willing. It wouldn’t be much fun if they weren’t. This definitely isn’t one of those shows that will leave you squirming in don’t-pick-me terror.

But then the remaining professionals do the rest to ensure the amateurs shine – and most important of all, feed them their lines… by increasingly clever means. At first they pretend simply not to have heard the response they didn’t want to get. But then it gets more sophisticated as the numbers of amateurs on the stage continue to multiply. The result is great fun, consistently hilarious and fabulously witty. And best of all the volunteers on stage are clearly having a blast as well.

Trying to hold it all together with increasing desperation is Chichester’s very own Tom Bulpett as the “director” of the piece on stage – and somehow he sees us through for one of the most unlikely evenings you will have in the theatre, but also one of the best. And huge credit too to tonight’s volunteers – a wonderfully game lot who saved the day when all the rest of us most definitely looked the other way every time a new cast member was needed!