SOMETIMES it’s possible to go through life and be familiar with a classic play yet still left with a lingering feeling that what you’ve seen so far has not hit the mark.

Oscar Wilde’s great satire on upper class manners is a case in point. Previously, I’ve always left the auditorium with that ‘wanting more’ sensation, but all this changed this week when I saw Chris Jaeger’s liberty-taking and stylistically bold remake of a piece I first encountered during that O-level summer of so long ago.

Jaeger’s studied tinkering with some of the dialogue pays off, because it’s delivered by those richly talented girls and boys of Worcester Repertory Company, and in particular Ben Humphrey and John-Robert Partridge, a couple of coves who face up to the challenges of upper class twittery with consummate ease.

By jove, it comes so naturally to them. Humphrey harrumphs through his Jack/Ernest Worthing role with his usual aplomb, while Partridge’s chintzy chinless wonder portrayal of Algernon Moncrieff is exactly that – a wonder to behold.

There are some real guffaws provoked here, as opposed to the usual ‘oh this is where we should laugh’ syndrome that afflicts so many who pretend but fail to understand the great Victorian wit that was Oscar Wilde.

Meanwhile, the girls are the epitome of little-rich-girl mindlessness, their shrill voices cutting through the summer air like demented nightingales on speed.

With all the grace of a finely trimmed cucumber sandwich, Victoria Lucie (Gwendolen Fairfax) and Alison Hellings (Cecily Cardew) make their respective roles truly their own.

However, the action most certainly moves up a notch when the magnificent Lady Bracknell, in the terrifying form of Liz Grand, sails across the stage like a Spanish galleon returning from the Indies, her ample hips seemingly bristling with broadside-firing cannon.

Not to be outdone, but in far quieter mode, we have a heavy-breathing and coquettish Miss Prism, courtesy of Edward Manning, who gets plenty of laughs as ‘she’ makes doe eyes at the chaste Canon Chasuble (Nick Wilkes).

Finally, a word of praise for Jonathan Darby, whose Carson-esque take on Lane the manservant kept the proceedings going like top class leaf tea flowing from the finest china.

The Importance of Being Earnest runs until Sunday (July 24) and is an absolute hoot… not to be missed!

John Phillpott