Paying homage to Oscar Wilde’s way with words, Smythson recently created a special edition 2015 diary, with an iconic quote from Wilde’s last play emblazoned across its navy lambskin binding.
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”
The Importance of Being Earnest, 1895
Smythson celebrates the play’s long-awaited return to the West End by collaborating with Wilde’s favourite place to dine: Hotel Café Royal, to offer a bespoke theatre package. Stepping behind the scenes with the cast of The Importance of Being Earnest, we delved into the world of acting to discover what it’s truly like to perform one of Wilde’s most celebrated works.
NIGEL HAVERS – Algernon
SMYTHSON: What is the strangest thing a role has required you to do?
NH: Learn to drive a tank!
SMYTHSON: What made you want to bring The Importance of Being Earnest back to the West End?
NH: I love the play so much; having done it in 1982 at the National Theatre I wanted another go at it.
SMYTHSON: What is your favourite quote from the play?
NH: ‘All women become their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does – that’s his’
CHERIE LUNGHI – Gwendolen
SMYTHSON: Were you a fan of Oscar Wilde’s work before The Importance of Being Earnest?
CL: I had only seen a couple of plays and had read and enjoyed The Picture of Dorian Gray and recited The Selfish Giant to music so my knowledge was limited. I’m now a huge fan and consider him ahead of his time.
SMYTHSON: Do you and Gwendolen have any characteristics in common?
CL: The younger me probably does – headstrong, passionate and romantic – but that’s youth for you!
SMYTHSON: Do you have any particular techniques to help you remember your lines?
CL: Practise, practise, practise, over and over, especially before going to sleep. I approach learning lines like learning times tables – repetition. And sometimes writing them out helps.
MARTIN JARVIS – Jack
SMYTHSON: Did you have any apprehensions about repeating the same role you did in the past?
MJ: Of course, especially in having to inhabit the energy and passion of a young man of twenty-nine! What has been interesting is that both Nigel and I have enjoyed bringing an extra emotional depth and understanding to the characters we first played over thirty years ago.
SMYTHSON: Favourite quote from the play?
MJ: ‘…it is a terrible thing for a man to find out suddenly that all his life he has been speaking nothing but the truth. Can you forgive me?’
This is Wilde at his perceptive, topsy-turvy best.
SMYTHSON: Do you prefer being on stage or behind the scenes in radio?
MJ: No preference. I have been lucky enough to work on great plays on radio and in the theatre. Whether the writers are Ayckbourn, Frayn, Pinter, a play is always gloriously ‘the thing’. It’s a privilege to serve them in whatever medium.
CHRISTINE KAVANAGH – Cecily
SMYTHSON: Do you prefer stage or television?
CK: I love all medium but most actors’ first love theatre.
SMYTHSON: What was your second choice of career if you chose not to be an actress?
CK: You can only be an actor if you have no second choice as it’s a very tough profession. ‘Be yourself, everyone else is taken.’ I have my own company called TheVoicehouse that records people’s life stories and memories.
SMYTHSON: Why did you choose to work with The Importance of Being Earnest?
CK: It’s a technical challenge, it’s a great comedy and to be reunited with Nigel Havers again is always a joy. Wilde is precision engineering – you need to relish the language and the sound of laughter is always a pleasure.
ROSALIND AYRES – Miss Prism
SMYTHSON: Do you still get nervous before the curtain rises?
RA: Yes of course, but a little apprehension is a good thing. It keeps you on your toes.
SMYTHSON: What life lessons would you give to your younger self?
RA: To learn to be ‘good’ nervous and not the nervousness that prevents you from doing your best possible work. Do a great deal of work on the play before you start rehearsals!
SMYTHSON: What’s different about Oscar Wilde’s work?
RA: Acting in Wilde is similar to acting in Shaw. They are expert wordsmiths and you need to play the whole line, following the arc of their thinking. You can’t break up the sentences into modern little sections. It doesn’t work.
Sian Phillips – Lady Bracknell
SMYTHSON: Do you and Lady Bracknell have anything in common?
SP: No. (Possibly, energy). Maybe also, alas. A mistaken belief that I am in the right most of the time.
SMYTHSON: How do you think the industry has evolved in the past 10 years?
SP: It’s strange but one never thinks of the theatre as an industry (unlike the film industry) and yet it is one, contributing hugely to the wealth of London (insufficiently acknowledged by the City). Nothing major seems to have altered in the last decade.
SMYTHSON: Once you get started in acting, is it difficult to find your genre?
SP: I don’t think one is meant to find a genre. It is rather expected of one to be able to turn one’s hand to anything. And that certainly leads to a more rewarding working life.
SMYTHSON: What’s your favourite Oscar Wilde quote – is it from the play?
NB: The poem Heles ‘To drift with every passion, til my soul is a stringed lute upon which all winds can play’
SMYTHSON: What do you tend to do after the show to relax?
NB: Go home!
SMYTHSON: Favourite quote from the play?
NB: ‘Who has the right to cast a stone against one who has suffered? Cannot repentance wipe out an act of folly? Why should there be one law for men, and another for women?’