44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The wittiest play ever written in the English language
"The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People" is one of the first plays written in English since the works of Shakespeare that celebrates the language itself. Oscar Wilde's comedy has one advantage over the classic comedies of the Bard in that "The Importance of Being Earnest" is as funny today as it was when it was first performed at the St...
Published on 12 July 2004 by Amazon Customer
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oh dear, oh dear!
When this recording came out, I immediately ordered it, expecting a CD version of the recording available for decades on audio tape (also with Gielgud/Evans). NAXOS, however (and much to my chagrin), "regale" us (??) with a 1952 radio recording which is the aural equivalent of looking at an old oil painting that has been sandblasted and then hosed down with acid...
Published on 14 Nov. 2005
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44 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The wittiest play ever written in the English language,
"The Importance of Being Earnest: A Trivial Comedy for Serious People" is one of the first plays written in English since the works of Shakespeare that celebrates the language itself. Oscar Wilde's comedy has one advantage over the classic comedies of the Bard in that "The Importance of Being Earnest" is as funny today as it was when it was first performed at the St. Jame's Theater in London on February 14, 1895. After all, enjoying Shakespeare requires checking the bottom for footnotes explaining the meaning of those dozens of words that Shakespeare makes up in any one of his plays. But Wilde's brilliant wit, his humor and social satire, remain intact even though he was a writer of the Victorian era.
Wilde believed in art for art's own sake, which explains why he emphasized beauty while his contemporaries were dealing with the problems of industrial England. "The Importance of Being Earnest" is set among the upper class, making fun of their excesses and absurdities while imbuing them with witty banter providing a constant stream of epigrams. The play's situation is simple in its unraveling complexity. Algernon Moncrieff is an upper-class English bachelor who is visited by his friend Jack Worthing, who is known as "Ernest." Jack has come to town to propose to Gwendolen Fairfax, the daugher of the imposing Lady Bracknell and Algy's first cousin. Jack has a ward named Cecily who lives in the country while Algernon has an imaginary friend named "Bunbury" whom he uses as an excuse to get out of social engagements.
Jack proposes to Gwendolen but has two problems. First, Gwendolen is wiling to agree because his name is Ernest, a name that "seems to inspire absolute confidence," but which, of course, is not his true Christian name. Second, Lady Bracknell objects to Jack as a suitor when she learns he was abandoned by his parents and found in a handbag in Victoria Station by Mr. Thomas Cardew. Meanwhile, Algernon heads off to the country to check out Cecily, to whom he introduces himself as being her guardian Jack's brother Ernest. This meets with Ceclily's approval because in her diary she has been writing about her engagement to a man named Ernest. Then things get really interesting.
Wilde proves once and for all time that the pun can indeed be elevated to a high art form. Throughout the entire play we have the double meaning of the word "earnest," almost to the level of a conceit, since many of the play's twists and turns deal with the efforts of Jack and Algernon to be "Ernest," by lying, only to discover that circumstances makes honest men of them in the end (and of the women for that matter as well). There is every reason to believe that Wilde was making a point about earnestness being a key ideal of Victorian culture and one worthy of being thoroughly and completely mocked. Granted, some of the puns are really bad, and the discussion of "Bunburying" is so bad it is stands alone in that regard, but there is a sense in which the bad ones only make the good ones so glorious and emphasize that Wilde is at his best while playing games with the English language.
But if Wilde's puns are the low road then his epigrams represent the heights of his genius, especially when they are used by the characters in an ironic vein (e.g., "It is very romantic to be in love. But there is nothing romantic about a definite proposal" and "I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance"). Jack is the male lead, but it is Algernon who represents the ideal Wilde character, who insists he is a rebel speaking out against the institutions of society, such as marriage, but with attacks that are so flamboyant and humorous that the cleverness of the humor ends up standing apart from the inherent point.
In the end, "The Importance of Being Earnest" is the wittiest play every written, in English or any other language, and I doubt that anything written in the future will come close. Wilde was essentially a stand-up comedian who managed to create a narrative in which he could get off dozens of classic one-liners given a high-class sheen by being labeled epigrams. Like a comedian he touches on several topics, from the aristocracy, marriage, and the literary world to English manners, women, love, religion, and anything else that came to his fertile mind. But because it is done with such a lighthearted tone that the barbs remain as timely today as they were at the end of the 19th-century and "The Importance of Being Earnest" will always be at the forefront of the plays of that time which will continue to be produced.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshingly interesting read at A-level,
By A Customer
I am currently studying The Importance of Being Earnest for my English Literature A-level and I can honestly say it is the best piece of writing I have studied so far. Funny, ironic and completely truthful, this play is based on people's behaviour, especially the behaviour of the aristocracy, which is, at times, nothing short of stupid, but that's where the humour lies. The play is fairly short, (A-level students everywhere heave a sigh of relief) but this doesn't prevent it from being complicated- those who have trouble remembering names might like to steer clear (at one point, two people claim to be the same person, even though this person doesn't exist). However, this doesn't make the play particularly difficult; once you have established the plot, it falls into place. A word of warning: if you have no sense of humour you will find this play a bore. For the rest of us, though, it's a highly enjoyable read.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very enjoyable reading, witty and full of "English" humor,
Despite the fact that I usually like to watch plays, not so much to read them on paper, I found "The Importance of Being Earnest" a very enjoyable reading. The plot is greatly witty and I had a real fun reading several scenes described in this book. Given the theatrical style, the overall plot is not quite realistic, yet it is highly brilliant and full of "English" humor. After having read the book, I also bought the Audio-CD version of it, which I also enjoyed sincerely.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Importance of Reading Earnest,
By A Customer
I personally think that this play is fantastic. Superficially it is a very trivial, lighthearted play with little plot but peppered with witty conceits. On a deeper level it provides an incredible, satirical view of Victorian moral society, from one of the the 'insiders'. The links between the play and the life of Wilde are rife, especially regarding Algernon. I would recommend it wholeheartedly.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic adaptation of this much loved comedy classic,
First broadcast as a four-act play by BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Day 1977, this purely audio adaptation of Oscar Wilde's classic 1895 comedy 'The Importance of Being Earnest' featured the likes of Jeremy Clyde as Algernon Moncrieff, Richard Pasco as John Worthing, Prunella Scales as Cecily Cardew and Maurice Denham as The Rev. Canon Chasuable.
In 2010, the BBC released the recording in a 2 CD audio book format, as part of their Classic Radio Theatre series. The recording is crisp and clear, delivering a perfect representation of the original broadcast.
The performance was directed by Ian Cotterell, who went on to do similar adaptations of popular classics, notably Alice in Wonderland (also in 1977) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (1985). With 'The Importance of Being Earnest', Cotterell sets down a constantly flowing rhythm to the storyline's pace, allowing for an entertaining and engaging adaptation of this humorous classic.
Jeremy Clyde's exceptional performance as Algernon Moncrieff is one of the strongest elements to the production. His comically playful voice adds a joyful quality to each line. Indeed, every time Clyde speaks of Moncrieff's fictional friend 'Bunbury' or the art of 'Bunburying', the listener can't help but snigger at the whole elaborate affair.
All in all this is a triumphant adaptation of a much loved and enjoyed comedy classic by such a literary great. The pace and flow of the storyline is spot on, and the delivery from each member of the cast is simply superb. The recording itself is flawless, making an altogether excellent presentation. This is an item that is well worth purchasing.
The audio book runs for a total of 2 hours and 20 minutes.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful production,
I've loved this play for years, and have been lucky enough to have seen several productions. For those who are unfamiliar with Oscar Wilde's wonderfully absurd romantic comedy, it involves two bachelors, John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff - both who claim to be Earnest Worthing - the two ladies they wish to marry, and the indomitable Lady Bracknell, whose views on suitability make everything more complicated.
This version was first aired in 1977, and is divided into the original 4 Acts. Each Act has been separated by piano music, reminiscent of Algy's playing in Act 1. The extra section concerns Algy's first arrival in the country as Earnest, and has a solicitor arriving at John Worthing's Manor House in the country to take Earnest Worthing off to prison for non payment of debts. It's the first time I've heard that act, and it does add brilliantly to the development of the relationships, whilst losing none of the absurdity.
Prunella Scales produced here one of the best Cecily Cardew's I've heard, but the great joy of this play is almost always in the voice of Lady Bracknell, played here by Fabia Drake. And it was an excellent performance; I wasn't quite convinced with her rendition of the famous, `a handbag', but that's probably just me, and the rest of the performance was very well delivered. Her voice has a fantastic timbre for the role, and she brought out nuances I hadn't picked up on from other productions.
I would highly recommend this CD, both for those who already love the play, and those who haven't yet had the pleasure. I played it in the car - and it was successful in silencing all three children for the entire journey.
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oh dear, oh dear!,
By A Customer
This review is from: The Importance of Being Earnest (Classic Drama) (Audio CD)
When this recording came out, I immediately ordered it, expecting a CD version of the recording available for decades on audio tape (also with Gielgud/Evans). NAXOS, however (and much to my chagrin), "regale" us (??) with a 1952 radio recording which is the aural equivalent of looking at an old oil painting that has been sandblasted and then hosed down with acid. Somewhere in the murk are the actors (apart from Gielgud/Evans, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, Betty Hardy, Ronald Ward, Angela Baddeley,...) giving excellent performances, but I doubt whether this recording is really, as the liner notes by Richard Bebb state "vastly superior to a complete version Gielgud and Evans made for Columbia records" (presumably the version I mentioned above, with among others, Roland Culver, Pamely Brown, Celia Johnson, Jean Cadell). Basically it is like one of these old opera recordings which get dug up in some archives and are then issued - wonderful if one is in the mood for it, but basically a chore to listen to. My tip: wait for the 1953 Columbia/EMI recording - NAXOS, or whoever has the rights to the tapes, REISSUE IT AT ONCE!!!! This 1952 recording is nice as a back up, but the later recording wins hands down in the sound department.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Thoroughly Wilde Time,
We should be grateful to Auntie Beeb that this 1977
radio broadcast of 'The Importance Of Being Ernest'
has been give a new lease of life in this fine audiobook.
Oscar Wilde's 1895 play, despite its highly formulaic ground
plan, remains deservedly popular more than a century later not
least for the pithy but restrained fireworks of its dialogue.
That he lived both inside and outside the class and culture
that he so venemously lampoons in this narrative is a credit
to his wit, shameless audacity and monolithic ego.
The cast under Ian Cotterell's knowing direction is uniformly
excellent. The story unfolds at a cracking pace and everyone
really does seem to be enjoying the experience of spinning
out those mercurial lines into the listening world.
Richard Pasco, as John Worthing and Jeremy Clyde as Algernon
Moncrieff deliver solid performances, making the most of the
confusion as the plot unfolds.
Prunella Scales is a delightful Cecily Cardew. Her fruity tone
and limber touch gives the words an almost musical quality.
Fabia Drake is a top notch Lady Bracknell. With her jaw set
permanently on stun, she chews each word as if it were a wasp
in her mouth, (doubtless her chin, too, is perfectly poised at
the correct socially required angle!) and spits them out with
scant regard for her victims' feelings. She is magnificent!
I was listening on a train when I got to her iconic reflection :
"Thirty five is a very attractive age. London society is full
of women of the very highest birth who have, of their own free
choice, remained thirty five for years" and laughed out loud!!
The sound quality of the recording is fresh and vivid througout.
Terence Allbright's whimsical piano interludes are a jolly addition.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable,
I've long enjoyed this play and was extremely pleased to get the chance to hear this 1977 production. I was not disappointed. The 2-disc set sounds wonderfully crisp and clear, and the voice acting and sound effects are excellent. It's still fresh and witty. Even if you haven't experienced the play before, no doubt you'd recognise some of Wilde's pithy aphorisms. Anyway, it's great fun. Rather strange packaging design, though- it looks like one of those old-fashioned toilet chains, which is peculiar. Obviously there is no mention of bathroom activities in the play.
There's quite a lot of classic BBC audio being released at the moment and it nearly all seems to be top-notch, and at the time of writing, very reasonably priced. I'd recommend this, and also http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1408427362 among others.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Total Joy!,
This is a wonderful sparkling play. It is full of clever lines and great characters and there is so much to enjoy. The great cast and the director wring just about every nuance out of the script. I noticed a lot of fun being wrought from the different social and economic circumstances of each of the characters (and there is a lot to do with social status/class here even down to town vs country snobbery). At the end there are three happy engagements - all within caste and class as Lady Bracknell would demand and the late Victorian audience would, overall, prefer. It's pitched just right to be popular and there are different facets to it depending on your point of view - so a broad audience can enjoy it. I thoroughly enjoyed this production. It was a total joy to listen to.
Of course this play is not just very well observed, it is very, very well written; it was the last glittering triumph of Oscar Wilde's career. The year was 1895 and Wilde would follow this success with 'An Ideal Husband' just a couple of months later. Around the same time he was arrested for 'gross indecency' and his tragic ruin and humiliation followed. He was ostracised from the British society he had so gently satirised and died in Paris in 1900 at the age of 46. I couldn't help thinking about all this while I was listening to this play which is so full of life and champagne wit and energy; it made the play take on a poignancy which made me really listen carefully to each word. On a lighter note this terrific production has made me want to read all of Oscar's plays and to make sure I see them all in quality theatre productions. And if there are any more great BBC radio productions of Wilde's plays I hope they will be released on CD or via MP3 downloads soon.
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The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (Paperback - 18 Aug. 2012)