In any list of the most British things, I’m sure country houses and Oscar Wilde plays would feature highly.
Split Second Productions have ticked both those boxes with The Importance of Being Ernest that’s currently on a tour of castles, cathedrals, civic buildings and mansions across the UK.
The theatre company specialises in telling amazing stories in amazing spaces and we were invited to review the Oscar Wilde classic at Kings Weston House, the grade one listed 18th-century building that’s a 30-minute bus ride from the centre of Bristol.
We’ve also been intrigued by the house but have never got round to visiting so this was a great excuse!
With glorious gardens and wonderful views of the city, the house, created by Blenheim Palace designer Sir John Vanbrugh, oozes charm and elegance with its awe-inspiring ceilings, marble fireplaces, and a stunning suspended central staircase.
It could not be a more perfect stage for Wilde’s famous comedy.
After taking in the splendour of the house, I walked into the Vanbrugh Room to be greeted by a simple set of a chaise longue and a few bits of garden furniture, surrounded by the audience seats. This was clearly going to be theatre up, close and personal!
I’ve somehow managed to avoid knowing the story of the play, described as “a trivial comedy for serious people”, so that just added to my excitement.
The simplicity of the stage is matched by the simplicity of the cast list as just two men – Alex Hooper and Jack Coleby – play all eight characters.
But that in no way diminishes from the quality of this production. In fact, it adds to it.
The two actors are just brilliant at switching between the central protagonists.
With very clever uses of hats, one moment Hooper is John ‘Jack’ Worthing, the next he’s Lady Augusta Bracknell and then he’s Cecily Cardew
Similarly, Coleby flits superbly between Algernon Moncrieff, Gwendolen Fairfax and Letitia Prism.
I fully believed there was more people on stage as I was drawn into Wilde’s riotous tale of how John and Algernon adopt fictitious personae to deal with the burdens of social conventions and expectations.
It was a wonderful production by two super impressive actors and the third cast member of Kings Weston House which added so much to the atmosphere.
Even if, unlike me, you do know the plot of The Importance of Being Ernest, you will still thoroughly enjoy it and I urge you to check it out. And not just because you get to have a nose around some wonderful buildings!
The Importance of Being Ernest is on tour until 3 June at Ashbridge House in Berkhamstead (30 May), Hylands Estate in Chelmsford (31 May), The Jockey Club Rooms at Newmarket (1 June), Leicester Cathedral (2 June) and Oxford Town Hall (3 June).