“To be born, or at any rate bred, in a hand-bag, whether it had handles or not, seems to me to display a contempt for the ordinary decencies of family life that reminds one of the worst excesses of the French Revolution.” – Lady Bracknell, The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
My mother and I made an outing to the theatre the other day to see The Importance of Being Earnest. Probably Oscar Wilde’s most famous play, it is the source of many of his best-known zingers. It never ceases to make me laugh. Even a line that this time gave me a twinge still had me laughing as I mouthed the line along with the actor:
“To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.” – Lady Bracknell
Lady Bracknell – that rich and rewarding role – was performed by Nancye Hayes, a dame of Australian theatre. In Australia, the best-loved Lady Bracknell was played by Ruth Cracknell. (Yes, she probably was destined to play the role with that name.) Geoffrey Rush got the gig a few years ago to the delight of audiences and critics alike.
The most famous Lady Bracknell of all, of course, would be Dame Edith Evans. There’s a funny story about her I have always remembered.
The story was told on the radio program My Word! that always followed The Goon Show on ABC Radio on the weekend – compulsory listening all through my childhood.
Now, I am pulling this story out of very old memory banks so if you are familiar with it and I have not got it quite right, please forgive me (and provide corrections in the comments).
During rehearsals for a production of The Importance of Being Earnest, the director was putting some of the cast through improvisation exercises. Dame Edith was sitting and watching from the stalls. The director asked the actors to imagine they were a tree or some other object and to act accordingly. As the actors went through the exercise, the director suddenly heard peculiar noises coming from the stalls.
“Are you all right, Dame Edith?” he inquired.
That imperious voice came from out of the darkness. “I am being a handbag.”
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” – Gwendolyn