The Importance of Being Earnest

Written by Oscar Wilde

Thursday 12th to Saturday 14th July, then Wednesday 18th to Saturday 21st July 2018

Directed by Mark Wakeman

Algernon wants to marry Cecily.

Jack wants to marry Gwendolyn.

Unfortunately Cecily and Gwendolyn both want to marry a man called Ernest. The only problem is it's the same man called Ernest. Or is it?

The course of true love never runs smooth, especially with the formidable Lady Bracknell on the loose who is determined that no one should marry anyone. Can the secret to this confusion really lie in an old, battered handbag?

Join Bench Theatre for this hilarious production of Oscar Wilde's most famous comedy.

AuthorOscar Wilde

Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde (1854 - 1900)

Wilde was born in Dublin and following extensive education under personal tutors, attended Trinity College, Dublin and Magdalen College, Oxford. A highly intelligent student, he won several prizes and scholarships.

Drawn by the opportunity to construct aesthetic details precisely, combined with larger social themes drew Wilde to writing drama. He wrote 'Salomé' in French, in Paris in 1891, but it was refused a licence. Unperturbed, Wilde produced four society comedies in the early 1890s, which made him one of the most successful playwrights of late Victorian London, culminating in his masterpiece 'The Importance of Being Earnest' in 1895.

At the height of his fame and success and with two comedies on stage in London, Wilde sued his lover's father for libel, although the case was later dropped at trial. After two subsequent trials, Wilde was imprisoned for two years' hard labour, having been convicted of "gross indecency" with other men. In prison he wrote 'De Profundis', a long letter which discusses his spiritual journey through his trials, forming a dark counterpoint to his earlier philosophy of pleasure. Upon his release he left immediately for France, never to return to Ireland or Britain. There he wrote his last work, 'The Ballad of Reading Gaol', a long poem commemorating the harsh rhythms of prison life. He died destitute in Paris at the age of forty-six.

PlayThe Importance of Being Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest (subtitled 'A Trivial Comedy for Serious People') was written in 1895 and received its premiere at the St. James's Theatre in London. The play's humour derives in part from characters maintaining fictitious identities to escape unwelcome social obligations and it is replete with witty dialogue. It satirises some of the foibles and hypocrisy of late Victorian society and is Wilde's most enduringly popular play - the last he ever wrote.

The Bench Production

The Importance of Being Earnest poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


John Worthing (Jack)Chris Vanstone
Algernon MoncrieffDan Finch
Lady BracknellIngrid Corrigan
Rev. Canon ChasublePeter Woodward
Merriman (Butler)Alan Welton
Lane (Manservant)Roger Wallsgrove
Gwendolen FairfaxFiona Bradley
Cecily CardewJo Langfield
Miss PrismSally Hartley


Director Mark Wakeman
Producer Jaspar Utley
Stage Manager Julie Wood
Assistant Stage Managers Jeff Bone and Melissa Hackney
Lighting Design Thomas Hall
Lighting Operation Phillippa Thorne
Sound Design and Operation Howard Alston
Poster Design Dan Finch
Costumes Di Wallsgrove
Programme Derek Callam
Set Design Pete Woodward
Set Artwork David Penrose
Set Construction Julie Wood and members of the company
Front of House Manager Sharman Callam
Photography Sharman Callam

Director's Notes

Okay, so this summer is my 20th anniversary directing for the Bench Theatre. In that time I've directed 16 main house shows and a scattering of one act plays for both Supernova and our entries to the Totton Festival of Drama. Directing was something I never really set out to do. It looked like an awful lot of hard work and you didn't even get to enjoy the bow at the end! Why would you want to do that???

However, the more plays I acted in I found myself thinking of other directors 'Oooh no, I wouldn't have done it like tha' and 'Oooh no, I wouldn't have cast them as that' and more frequently 'Why doesn't anyone pitch a play like (insert play name here) as we would do that brilliantly'. And so I came to the reluctant conclusion that I would have to pitch 'that' play and then I would be able to 'cast' it how I wanted and 'do' it how I believed it should be.

If anyone has ever read one of my director's rambles before, you know that I frequently retire from directing and swear I'm never going to do another one. Because: 1) It is a lot of hard work and, 2) you really don't get to enjoy the bow at the end!!

But what you do get, is to work with a wonderful, endlessly talented and always inspiring cast who delight you at every turn. A hard-working back stage crew who work their socks off to make sure that everything looks and sounds great and is dressed amazingly... and audiences who take the time to come and support local theatre and who laugh in all the right places (and some of the wrong places admittedly) and always applaud at the end (even if they don't want to!). And all of that just….just about makes it worthwhile.

To try something different for my 20th anniversary, I've actually chosen to direct a play for a second time which is something I've never attempted before! Going way back to my 2nd directorial effort. Why? Because I adore the script and, in the time since we last performed it, we've got a whole host of new actors that I knew would relish the chance to tell this story again.

So I hope you enjoy our production of 'Earnest' tonight for all the reasons I've stated above. The cast has been a joy to work with and will work their socks off to make you laugh. The crew have given up endless hours to make sure everything runs smoothly. And you, the audience have once again chosen to part with your hard-earned money to support a local company who wouldn't get to make theatre like this without you. So thank you kindly. Now please sit back and enjoy the show.

Mark Wakeman


Portsmouth NewsJames George

If you want an evening of trivial nonsense - and a good laugh - this is for you.

I hate Oscar Wilde, so attending his plays I see as a challenge to the company: make me enjoy this. Now, I'm going to go on record as saying I didn't hate The Bench's latest offering - The Importance of Being Earnest at The Spring in Havant. In fact - heaven help me - I really liked it. In a play as done as this, there's little any company can bring to it that is brand new. Mark Wakeman's direction, however, demolishes some of the cliche of this theatrical behemoth and freshens it.

He is lucky, too, with his cast - not one of whom lets the side down. Perhaps, just perhaps, Chris Vanstone (Jack) and Dan Finch (Algy) could relax a little more and let Oscar do more of the work. While I despise the man's arrogance, I'm not going to knock his ability to nicely-hone a phrase.

His words do the work without the extra push an actor may be tempted to give them. Wakeman's women really shine. Fiona Bradley (Gwendolen), Ingrid Corrigan (Lady Bracknell), Sally Hartley (Miss Prism) and particularly Jo Langfield as Cicely take the ludicrous plot and make both it and their characters believable. If you want an evening of trivial nonsense - and a good laugh - this is for you.


James George, Portsmouth News, July 2018

Production Photographs