It’s just two words, but they are among the most famous theatrical two-word outpourings in history – and the audience will be sitting there waiting for them.
So just exactly how do you approach Lady Bracknell’s celebrated expression of horror/indignation: “A handbag?” – especially when the great Edith Evans in the film version so promptly comes to mind?
It’s the task which befalls Diane Fletcher (House of Cards) when Middle Ground Theatre Company brings its production of Oscar Wilde’s comedy of mistaken identity, The Importance Of Being Earnest, to Horsham’s Capitol from Tuesday-Saturday, September 11-15.
“It’s a daunting thought, that!” Diane concedes. “The only way to approach it, I think, is just the way you would any other line. But it has become like a purple passage.
“It is so remarkable when you think of Evans. It has become so well-known, but the whole scene is extremely funny – and there are only so many ways that you can deliver a line!”
It’s a relatively small part, but whenever she appears Lady Bracknell is certainly high impact: “She is such a big character. She is such a big person and makes such a big impact on the play. But I don’t think she is a monster.
“She is often played that way, but she is just completely outraged to hear of her daughter marrying a man that was born in a handbag. She gets very worried! She is just very conscious of her position!
“Of course it is all very high comedy, but the thing with all comedy is that you must believe – the characters must believe in what they are all saying, even if they are talking nonsense!”
Plus of course, there is the challenge of the language itself: “The play is considered a gem of the English language.
“The words Oscar uses are brilliant, and if you miss a word, you are in trouble.
“The rhythm of the language is so important.”
The rhythm of the language drives the play – but that’s not to say that the rhythm makes learning the language any easier: “You just know if you miss a word!”
It’s a question of keeping up, not least with the plot.
Jack Worthing lives in the country with his pretty ward Cecily Cardew, but when in London he is known as Ernest and is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax. Gwendolen’s cousin is Algernon, but when he travels to Jack’s country house he is also known as Ernest, and is in love with Cecily... Confused?
You’ve got two bachelors named Ernest, who aren’t… and two beautiful girls who are in love with Ernests who aren’t. However, they will be when they are rechristened…
Diane comes to the production as a former Gwendolen – but as she says it’s not rare to come back to a play. She has played the same part in A Midsummer Night’s Dream three times and the same part in Hamlet three times too.
“But each time it is different, of course. It depends on the approach of the whole production. You move on. I am a different person. You have different people around you. Each has their own way of doing it…”
Tickets on: 01403 750220 or www.thecapitolhorsham.com.