Is the sober Ernest Worthing the upright gentleman he appears to be, or is he leading a double life and concealing a dark secret?
His exuberant friend Algy and the formidable Lady Bracknell are relentless in their pursuit of truth – all in the cause of what passes for true love in Wilde’s sparkling satire on marriage among the upper classes. But the truth, as Algy perceives, “is rarely pure and never simple”.
The Importance of Being Earnest was first performed in 1895 to a rapturous reception, but the subsequent scandal of Oscar Wilde’s criminal trial for homosexuality forced the production to close and it was not revived until 1901, a year after his death. Since then its countless productions all over the world support actor Nigel Havers’ opinion that it is “the funniest play in the English language”. Certainly, it rivals Hamlet for the familiarity of its quotations:
“To lose one parent, Mr Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”