ADRIAN Noble’s breakneck direction and the regal presence of David Suchet must surely ensure that this production of the Oscar Wilde classic will go down in the annals as the best of all time.

However, this uproariously biting satire on the pretensions of the Victorian upper classes is much more than a perfectly interpreted version of a timeless work by the world’s most celebrated wit.

For Noble has brought this saga of muddled identities bang up to date with scenes that seamlessly flit from Saturday night stand-up to slapstick that wouldn’t be out of place in a modern sit-com.

The dialogue between John Worthing (Michael Benz) and Algernon Moncrieff (Philip Cumbus) veers from the merely hysterical to the utterly madcap in the time it takes to bite on a buttered teacake.

The director’s style seems to be one that maximises the characters in comic pairings that weave in and out of the storyline, the overall effect blending to become a verbal roller coaster of absurdity.

Thus we have the impossibly snooty Gwendolen Fairfax (Emily Barber) partnered with Imogen Doel’s hilarious take on Cecily Cardew, who is tirelessly entertaining as the feather-brained ward of the increasingly bemused Worthing.

Not to be outdone, we also have the shrill governess Miss Prism (Michele Dotrice) and her gushing admirer the Rev Canon Chasuble, played with unfailing churchly eccentricity by Richard O’Callaghan.

But the night quite obviously belongs to the indomitable Lady Bracknell and Suchet’s glorious performance as the old blunderbuss will forever be etched on the memory.

Skilfully avoiding the temptations of turning the whole thing into a Danny La Rue tribute act, he transforms the role into a magnificent tour de force with the bearing of a Spanish galleon in full sail and sporting a gimlet mouth that appears permanently to be licking something unspeakable from the stem of a nettle.

The Importance of Being Earnest runs until Saturday (May 30). Utterly brilliant and not to be missed.

John Phillpott