This quirky new opera first presented at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera House gets a new venue for this brief run at the Barbican. 

The Importance of Being Earnest, Barbican, London - March 2016
(L-R)Paul Curievici, Benedict Nelson,Alan Ewing, Claudia Boyle and Stephanie Marshall. Photograph by Stephen Cummiskey. (c)ROH. 

First seen in 2013, this new revival of Gerald Barry’s opera based on the classic Oscar Wilde’s great play directed by Ramin Gray enhances the comedy both physically and interpretations of Wilde’s classic lines – despite some sound issues.

The story follows Jack and Algernon as they fall in love with Gwendolen and Cecily – but there is some confusion as to who is really called Earnest – a name that both ladies are fond of. This leads to much hilarity as the story begins to unfold.

This refreshing and vibrant production is filled with great energy and pace throughout, which suits the comedy side well – but means that at times the characters are left a bit underdeveloped in places.

With  its very contemporary set, Gerald Barry’s interpretation keeps hold of the comedy that is at the centre of Wilde’s play even adding to it such as when Gwendolen (Stephanie Marshall) tells Jack  (Paul Curievici) her feelings about the name Jack or Lady Bracknell (Alan Ewing) interrogating Jack about his past.

It is at moments such as these that the music works particularly well, emphasising certain points to great effect and drawing out even more laughter from the audience. However, it has to be said that there are time when the sound is off and it is difficult to make out words in places that suggests the production is slightly overwhelmed in the Barbican.

Conductor Tim Murray leads the Britten Sinfonia, very precisely and adding a sense of playfulness to proceedings – despite Barry’s composition sounding slightly clunky in places.

There are some enjoyable performances particularly from Claudia Boyle, making her Royal Opera debut in the role of Cecily who equally has stunning vocals and great personality and charisma to make the character charm the audience. There is also fine support from Alan Ewing as Lady Bracknell with plenty of variety of tones interpreted in his voice and offering a perfect image of snobbery. Stephanie Marshall as Gwendolen has great comic timing and naturalness in her interpretation of the character that makes her enjoyable to watch.

It is a show that has plenty of creativity and inventiveness thrown in that makes it a very refreshing interpretation of a play that has been developed many times but much in the same style. This version might take some time to get used to if you are a traditionalist but if you stick with it, it allows you to view the characters in an entirely new way. Just get the sound issues sorted and it would be even better.

The Importance of Being Earnest is on at the Barbican until the 3rd April. For more information and to book tickets visit: http://www.barbican.org.uk/theatre/event-detail.asp?ID=18717

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