To Hell in a Handbag
Wilde’s Rogue Ones
Confession proves dubious for the soul in Helen Norton and Jonathan White’s "To Hell in a Handbag," a casual Sunday stroll through the reimagined lives of two of Oscar Wilde's supporting cast in The Importance of Being Earnest. Delving deeper into the back stories of Reverend Canon Chasuble and Governess Miss Prism, "To Hell in a Handbag" serves up a delightful tale of the unexpected. Replete with exotic islands, philately, and the trials and tribulations concerned with the root of all evil, "To Hell in a Handbag" delivers a wordy, witty and whimsical homage to all things Wilde and Earnest. Following a brief, if not entirely successful or necessary voice over, Wilde's pair of lovable rogues share casual observations over a leisurely preamble through the manor garden, and later at the Rectory. Canon Chasuble may be a grey haired, fuddy duddy, and Miss Prism a paragon of the prim and proper, but both conceal secrets beneath their veneer of Victorian propriety. Pomp and circumstance might all be very well, and reputations might well be everything, but in a world where there is no honour among thieves and we all need to make ends meet, grabbing a handbag and heading straight to hell might well prove to be the best choice available.
Written and performed by Helen Norton and Jonathan White, "To Hell in a Handbag" displays a lot of Wilde’s delight in clever word play, as well as a fair smattering of wit, though obviously comparisons with the master are always going to come up a little short. In true Wilde fashion, the plot twists this way and that, ensuring interest is always maintained. Throughout, there’s a wonderful sense of formality and stuffiness which Norton and White play with to wonderful effect in two fine performances as the gormless Canon and the razor-sharp Miss Prism. Set design by Maree Kearns and costume design by Saileóg O’Halloran might be simple, but both are wonderfully effective and cleverly evocative of the Victoria era. All of which director Conor Hanratty cleverly ensures never excites itself beyond the dignified pace of afternoon tea and scones, so that it can all be savoured at leisure.
"To Hell in a Handbag" is the theatrical equivalent of a stroll through a Victorian country garden, all chaste and charm and crammed full of chuckles. Like mid-week, midday re-runs of old sit com classics, it's easy, familiar and delightfully good fun. There can be no better way to spend an enlightening and dignified lunch hour.
"To Hell in a Handbag," by Helen Norton and Jonathan White, runs at Bewleys Café Theatre until July 22nd