Tag Archives: Pippa Nixon

“The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Vaudeville Theatre

A year-long season of Oscar Wilde plays, masterminded by Dominic Dromgoole, draws to a close with the biggest and best: the great man’s famous comedy of misconstrued manners and identities that everyone agrees is a masterpiece. All the productions from the Classic Spring Theatre Company have been fresh and intelligent, with a marked confidence in their material, and this show from director Michael Fentiman is no exception.

A talented cast is inspired to be bold. Fehinti Balogun has real star quality as a particularly dandyish Algernon, while his fellow bachelor Jack is played with amusing bluster by Jacob Fortune-Lloyd. Their love interests are both portrayed as formidable characters, with great performances from Fiona Button and Pippa Nixon. As for the older generation, looking on at the love affairs and ostensibly in charge, every line from Sophie Thompson’s Lady Bracknell and Stella Gonet’s Miss Prism is worth listening to, as Wilde pokes at any and all pretension.

This is as bacchanalian a production as you could wish for Wilde – full of food and sex. Compulsive eating is picked out; watching the cast manage sandwiches and crumpets while delivering such complex lines is its own pleasure. And while remaining credibly fin de siècle, these are the lustiest ladies you could get away with (Button’s “tremors” are beautifully delivered). Meanwhile Balogun plays Algernon with a polyamorous streak that’s blissfully naughty.

The production has a careful eye on class with the servants’ limited lines playing a big part. Algernon’s butler, Lane, becomes part of the family and benefits from a strong performance from Geoffrey Freshwater. Thompson’s Lady B is satisfyingly innovative: there’s no dithering about with that handbag line and there’s a touching moment at the plot reveal. Yes, no matter how silly, Thompson is right to bring a tear to her eye here.

A clean, clear look at a famous text, even one as perfect as this, is always good. The balance with retaining what made it a classic is perfect here. Perhaps the approach can be summed up with the complementary work on set and costume design from Madeline Girling and Gabriella Slade, respectively. The stage is almost bare, free of fussy period details, while the wardrobe is spot on and gorgeous. So there’s nothing to get in the way of the comedy. And nothing to deny the date of the piece either. It’s to Fentiman’s credit that his touches are thought provoking and respectful – and in every case increase the wonderful humour on offer.

Until 20 October 2018


Photo by Marc Brenner

“Sunset at the Villa Thalia” at the National Theatre

You can take the playwright out of Sloane Square and yet, it appears from Alexis Kaye Campbell’s new play, London is never far away. The subject here is the history of modern Greece, the coup in 1967 and its aftermath in the writer’s mother’s home country. But when an arty English couple snap up a second home at a bargain price, it feels as if the London housing crisis is giving rise to debates about politics and intervention.

Elizabeth McGovern
Elizabeth McGovern

Simon Godwin’s tight direction and a superb cast are the best things here. Theo and Charlotte, brilliantly performed by Sam Crane and Pippa Nixon, are a playwright and actress. Yes, the self-referentiality is tiresome, but it’s in keeping with the theme of personal responsibility in the play. Contrasts with an American couple, holiday friends, are fun and Elizabeth McGovern from Downton Abbey is a revelation as the drunken June, who likes her fruit punch without the fruit. It’s June’s husband, a shady American official called Harvey, that Kaye Campbell does best with: he’s a dark figure who claims his dirty dealings secure freedom and enable democracy (with its ‘twin’ the theatre) to flourish. Balancing charisma, intelligence and danger, Ben Miles excels in the role.

Sam Crane and Ben Miles
Sam Crane and Ben Miles

The laudable, openly declared question of ‘What would you do?’ is fair game. Cramming politics into a play is never easy, being blatant is fine. Nonetheless, it’s all too easy to dismiss many arguments here as naïve – left or right – even though Miles and Nixon are riveting. The effort is thorough, the play hard working and this surprisingly traditional piece is an entertaining, erudite affair. The playwright within the play is demoralised that his work is “quietly political”. Applying the same assessment to Kaye Campbell might not please him, but the passion often feels contrived, the arguments too easy, and so that label fits.

Until 4 August 2016


Photos by Manuel Harlan