What I did last night
By Veronica Nkwocha
Nestled on the grounds of Guildford Castle is a gazebo framed by an oak tree. It is summer and hanging plants with pretty flowers lend colour to the evening. Garden furniture sit quietly awaiting their host. A lone bird whizzed past trees high above near empty chairs. They are set out on the lawn in a slight ‘U’, a cheeky smile withholding a secret; they have seen what is about to unfold many times before. There’s time for a quick picnic and then music lures guests to their seats now packed full for the evening.
We are here to watch ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde staged by the Guildford Shakespeare Company and directed by Anna Ledwich.
The veneer of social ‘propriety’ is circumvented by friends, John (“Jack”) Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff by their creation of fictitious characters. The muddle that came out of their pretense at being Ernest brought to the fore some of the double standards that ran like an undercurrent in conversations typically clothed with etiquette.
Algernon was an effervescent character and very difficult for Jack (Ernest) to put down with his witty comebacks. He contrasted with Jack’s stern but intelligent demeanour. Lady Bracknell was the very air of uppity charm dipped in a cutting wit constantly underlining the importance of an entrenched status quo.
Gwendolen Fairfax was the vivacious and ‘modern’ woman besotted with Ernest (Jack). She formed a rivalry and then a tentative friendship with beautiful Cecily Cardew over their shared obsession with Ernest, but which one? The object of Cecily’s affection was Algernon better suited to her flighty character. The butler‘s transformation in two different households was so dramatic I didn’t realise it was the same person.
The poor local vicar Dr Chasuble was doomed to racing between his parish and Jack’s home about a christening. He seemed to drift off at the thoughts of an inspiration for a sermon. Miss Prism was pinched like a lemon and it was apt that she squeezed out the answer to the secret of ‘the handbag’. How many more hints could a girl give and still the vicar carried on oblivious. And there was ‘Bunbury’, I could almost see him in my mind’s eye, hunched over a bowl of scents to ward away the chills.
From the very first opening of the play, it was a journey into laughter; the story was delivered with panache, a charmed performance by brilliant artists. They came to life with punch and the amount of humour crammed into one play made for a lively evening. There was uninhibited laughter and a sense of camaraderie began to build in the audience with the shared experience.
There were wistful looks as the play ended and we all walked to our exit. The Gazebo was empty. But a slight smile brought a spring to the step; laughter still is the best medicine.