THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. West Yorkshire Playhouse Leeds.
Lynne Parker had found a line in The Importance of Being Earnest that coloured her approach to Lady Bracknell: "When I married Lord Bracknell I had no fortune of any kind. But I never dreamed for a moment of allowing that to stand in my way."
Yes, the old girl does say it (in Act III). I know the play quite well but couldn't remember the line. I looked at three revision texts, and not one of them mentioned it. Lady Bracknell is the aristocracy, they all agreed, but there was no mention of her starting out as middle class - or worse.
Lynne is directing Wilde's play at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. She asked Una Stubbs to play Lady B and Una was immediately interested. (Una talked with a friend who had directed three productions of Earnest, but even he couldn't remember the line.) "You have to react against the Edith Evans performance; it's a milestone, like Olivier's Richard III," says Lynne. "But we're not wishing to be mainly reactive. I'm trying to explore a different aspect of Lady Bracknell's personality."
Una Stubbs, delicate and effortlessly sexy, will not be playing a dowager but a wilful woman who uses her feminine wiles rather than resorting to bellowing.
"People have mimicked and parodied Edith Evans so you can hear that voice ringing around when you're doing it," Una explains. "She makes it so difficult, so it's so lovely to go a completely different route."
Lynne says there are a lot of conflicts in the play. "It's a series of complex, complicated games and competitions and the whole point is being one step ahead of your opponent. Lady Bracknell plays the major game when challenging Jack."
There will be a few unexpected touches, but Lynne stresses the importance of the production looking perfect from start to finish. It will be a completely conceived world, with nothing representational. The WYP's cavernous Quarry stage, which often encourages scurried exits, demands a movement-orientated production.
Lynne Parker is Irish-born but doesn't see the Irish rhythms that others claim to see in the play; to her it is a very English play, the classic comedy and so sublimely silly. Sublimely something else as well.
"Sexy!" she laughs. "There's a lot of sex in the play and nobody reveals anything. It's very sexy; it wouldn't be funny unless it was, and it wouldn't be sexy unless it was funny. It's about mischief, and I don't know anything sexier than mischief. It's the sexuality of wit."
West Yorkshire Playhouse October 24 to November 20 Tel: 0113 2442111