By chance I found myself in the Dolphin pub in Sydenham, just as they were about to start the matinee performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I looked at the programme and I didn’t see a single name I had ever heard of. The last time I saw the play was at the National, directed by Peter Hall. I must confess I found that production immensely cumbersome and boring, in spite of Judi Dench as Lady Bracknell. I was seized by curiosity to see how Wilde would fare in an outer borough of London.
I intended to leave in the interval, but couldn’t. I was amazed, thrilled. I could never have imagined I could see a better performance of the play in the back garden of a pub in Sydenham than in the National, but this was the case. The director, Jonathan Kaufman, had a perfect sense of timing, and rhythm and so did his actors The play flew along as a smoothly and at such speed as a symphony in the hands of a good conductor. The actors were all young, full of energy, passion and intelligence – they made Wilde’s wit sparkle in every sentence. It was a fast performance, yet nothing was lost. I was particularly struck by the actress playing Gwendolen, Rosalind Parker, Joseph Attenborough (Algernon) and Tom Franck (Jack Worthing)– but, with a single exception, they were all good.
This brilliant production shouldn’t be playing in the garden of a pub in Sydenham, but at the National or at the West End. Each performance would be sold out and all these young actors would be famous.