Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Lawrence Batley Theatre & The Dukes Lancaster, online co-production
19 April-4 May 2021, available for 48 hours on purchased date: 75min
Yes, there’s still a handbag. Yasmeen Khan’s done much more than make an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s story for this lockdown-theatre show on film, and she’s kept in the most famous line of all, and the plot twist that hangs on it.
It’s very close to Oscar in many other ways, and the promotional copy that talks about it as an updated narrative transposed to the cobbles and stone walls of the north hides the fact that it’s a deft and light-hearted skit, not only on its original but also on all things northern and cliché.
In short, it’s a lot of fun. Not least in the imported character cameos played by Harriet Thorpe, as an appalling actors’ agent, and Paul Chahidi as an equally appalling "international film director". In all those days of enforced resting, I guess 2020 may have given many actors time to mull over their experiences at the hands of such power brokers, and both the writing and their closely observed performances are hilarious.
That’s far from all. Yasmeen Khan’s version of Algy (Tom Dixon) turns him into a successful rom-com star. Would-be actor Jamil (Gurjeet Singh, the Jack character and therefore aka Ernest) is to be mentored by him, one of the few openings his agent can find at the moment, as she insists he perseveres with his hopeless vlog. He’s trying to make it big on social media, and got more followers by being Ernest than Jamil. (Agent Alison also gets him on breakfast television for a few moments, providing Hugh Dennis the chance to be an inanely grinning presenter, alongside Sindhu Vee, in another cameo spot).
Jamil has a sister/cousin/aunt called Safina (ie Cecily), and Algy’s latest film role is in the hands of Ms Begum (Mina Anwar, who also directs the show): she’s the Lady Bracknell character, and her daughter is Gul, rather than Gwendolen (Nikki Patel).
So there you have the central quintet, and each of them gives a strong performance. There’s no Canon Chasuble (a real improvement on Wilde, in my opinion), but there is a Miss Prism, who turns out to be a lovely performance by Melanie Marshall as a practitioner of "felt tip feng shue" and "lifestyle guru slash manifestation coach slash tarot master: I take credit cards" – that’s another improvement, in my book.
Algy’s lines are sometimes close to, if not directly from, the original, including his invention of an unhealthy friend called Bunbury (but, though dear Oscar might have liked to have drag queen Divina De Campo as his personal assistant, he never actually thought of that one). In the end true northernness wins through, as both pairs of lovebirds achieve their ambition of going to Nando’s together.
I silently ground my teeth where the script has "disinterested" to mean the opposite of ‘interested’, and as a work of cinematic art the show’s a bit limited – you notice it particularly in a static shot of the complete foursome at one point – but that hardly spoils the comedy. There’s a TV-style opening scene before the titles, and you get nice "out-takes"-style stuff with the credits at the end, so they’ve taken some trouble to pull it all together.
And the "handbag", allegedly discovered with Jamil in it, outside a mosque? Well, actually that was a tale, too - "because it sounded better than a holdall in Huddersfield". And then there’s even a name-check for a "real" Lady Bracknell … nice one, Yasmeen.
Booking details here