To Hell in a Handbag

To Hell in a Handbag shares a most important quality with its inspiration: the infectious nature of the prose. One can hardly resist, upon a leaving a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest, trading verbose quips in the manner of Mr. Wilde himself. To share that trait is a remarkable point in favour of the new ‘trivial comedy’ written by Helen Norton and Jonathan White, who also star.

To Hell in a Handbag captures the spirit of the original, while shedding the revealing glow of the footlights onto this otherwise unconsidered couple.

Ms. Norton and Mr. White play the tutor Miss Prism and the priest Canon Chasuble, respectively. But not, I dare say, respectfully, as it happens that the secret lives of these minor characters are far more diverting than one could have possibly imagined. Both, it appears, are engaged in duplicitous acts entirely unnoticed by Mr. Worthing, Mr. Moncrieff and their associates. But in the safety of Dr. Chasuble’s study, these secrets are revealed, as well as the true nature of their courtship.

The literature’s best quality is its Wildean wit: an unmistakable, and I had imagined inimitable, facet of the late author’s style. Ms. Norton and Mr. White have penned dialogue that fits perfectly into the mouths of these century-old characters, and with the assistance of director Conor Hanratty, they deliver it with equal conviction. Ms. Norton particularly impresses with her comedic exploits, utilising the range of her voice to advantage, such that simply lowering her tone to indicate the seriousness of her situation is enough to elicit laughter from her audience. Mr. White is relegated to more of a ‘straight man’ position, yet is entirely competent as the prematurely hen-pecked husband-to-be.

Aided by set designer Maree Kearns and costume designer Saileóg O’Halloran, who add realism to this utterly surreal tale, I can confidently assert the worthiness of this offering. For any devotee of the work of Mr. Wilde, To Hell in a Handbag captures the spirit of the original, while shedding the revealing glow of the footlights onto this otherwise unconsidered couple.

Reviews by Bennett Bonci

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★★★★
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The Blurb

The Secret Lives of Canon Chasuble and Miss Prism by Helen Norton and Jonathan White. While others are preoccupied with cucumber sandwiches and railway cloakrooms, two minor characters from The Importance of Being Earnest are up to their necks in something else. A country rector and a governess, models of Victorian propriety in public. But in private? This is the play behind the play: a tale of blackmail, false identity... and money. 'Top-notch gags... four stars' (Irish Times). 'Wickedly, side-splittingly funny... a joyous romp not to be missed' (Sunday Independent).

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