There are two things that Irish actors can’t do: verse, and class.

When Rough Magic tackled The Taming of the Shrew two years ago, director Lynne Parker found a solution, of sorts, in a very Irish rendition of the play, roughing it up and embracing regional accents.

Parker has done something similar with Wilde’s great satire of the upper classes. None of her cast could fake it in Brideshead Revisited, or Cameron’s cabinet. Without that innate sense of breeding, the play loses some of its sting.

But Parker has slapped it around a little to revive it, seeking drama in lines that are too often thrown away as glib comedy, more idiosyncratic characters underneath an often caricatured surface, and visual touches to lift it out of the drawing room.

The result is an Earnest that may not seem very faithful, but is pacy, entertaining and funny – and often in surprising places.

At the heart of the show is the American star, Stockard Channing, as Lady Bracknell. Before her arrival, the production looks to be a disaster. The early scenes are hammy and desperately unfunny, the cast unsure.

As Algie, Rory Nolan struggles to find novelty in his incessant aphorisms, and too often signals his punchlines well in advance.

Then Channing sweeps in, and suddenly gives the play purpose.

She has a visceral stage presence, ignores the vast precedent that attends her role, and plays for the scene, not the line, regularly playing against expectation.
As the laughs start to come, the production starts to find its own particular pace.

Rory Keenan is an impassioned Jack, Gemma Reeves a delightful Cecily, and Aoife Duffin an unusually (but enjoyably) worldly Gwendolen.

This is a brave bid by Rough Magic for popular success. It may not be rigorously Earnest, but it is, eventually, earnestly funny.

Reviewed for the Irish Independent at the Gaiety Theatre on June 8.