From the outset, this musical adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 play The Importance of Being Earnest was just bad and unfortunately, not the kind of bad production that you’d recommend your friends watch for a laugh.
Many of the cast members do not seem comfortable singing or acting through song and this gives the show an amateur feel.
It begins with a confusing piece of exposition that sees a man at his laptop transformed into the role of Jack Worthing. Framing the show around a modern setting isn’t something especially uncommon – the 2014 production at the Harold Pinter theatre utilises this device in the form of an Amateur Operatic performance – but there is so little information given about this present-day Worthing that it renders the sequence redundant. When the character returned at the end of the performance, I assumed we were to be given more to work with but unfortunately this was not the case and I was left bewildered as to why the present-day framing device had been utilised at all.
Tales Retold and All-In-One Theatre take a cast of well-established actors but fail to use them to their full potential. Many of the cast members do not seem comfortable singing or acting through song and this gives the show an amateur feel. It doesn’t help that the bland songs leave little opportunity to show off any vocal flair and seem to be shoehorned into the show rather than appearing to occur spontaneously. Direction is also particularly poor during the musical numbers, with characters resigned to pacing the width of the stage because these numbers do nothing to enhance the narrative. Lyrical highlights include, “He’s mine! He’s mine! He’s mine!” for an entire song as Cecily (Catherine Hayworth) and Gwendolen (Cassandra Foster) argue over who is really engaged to Ernest.
There’s probably something niggling you about the title of this show- why Much Ado about Muffins? Aside from a couple of references to Algernon (Simon Kingsley) being a glutton and eating a muffin in one scene, there’s no reason at all. There’s also no reason for there to be an Andy Warhol-inspired portrait of Oscar Wilde at the back of the stage which throws the period of the production off-kilter but I suspect that has something to do with the aforementioned present-day exposition.
Fortunately there is a moment of relief during an exchange between Cecily and Algernon. Both Kingsley and Hayworth gain laughs with their expressive acting style and together raise the standard of the performance thanks to their charisma. This is short-lived however and we soon return to the poorly paced, dull production that tries hard to be funny but misses the mark due to a lack of comic timing.
A musical adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest is a fantastic idea but this is not the way to achieve it. Overall, a disappointing production.