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British actor David Suchet

Who's that Lady? Call for Poirot to find out: David Suchet set to star as Lady Bracknell in new West End version of The Importance of Being Earnest

Baz Bamigboye // Daily Mail

Underneath the wide-brimmed hat the face is teasingly familiar, while the nose and slightly quizzical tilt of the head are clues to this Victorian grande dame’s identity.

But if a little detective work is still needed, perhaps it is time to call for Hercule Poirot. For this is David Suchet — minus the Belgian detective’s famous moustache — dressed as the indomitable Lady Bracknell.

Suchet, Agatha Christie’s dapper sleuth on ITV for 25 years, plays Lady Bracknell in a new West End production of The Importance Of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde’s satire of Victorian high society.

The role was famously portrayed on film by Edith Evans and has also been taken by Penelope Keith, Judi Dench, Geoffrey Rush and Brian Bedford.

In addition to Poirot on ITV, the actor has played some heavy-hitting roles on stage, but this time he wanted something lighter.

His friend, the producer Kim Poster, suggested Wilde’s great comedy, and added that he should take a punt at playing the imperious Lady Bracknell, famous for her cry of ‘A handbag?!’ and lines like ‘no woman should ever be quite accurate about her age — it looks so calculating’ and ‘never speak disrespectfully of Society, Algernon. Only people who can’t get into it do that’.

Edith Evans famous played her on screen. Penelope Keith portrayed her on stage. Judi Dench did both. But some brave men have performed the part, too. Geoffrey Rush did it in Australia; and Brian Bedford in Stratford, Ontario and on Broadway.

Suchet admitted that he was persuaded by the precedents of Rush and Bedford. But he said he intended to play her ‘straight’.

“Please god that I don’t become a pantomime dame — that would ruin the play. I’m going to explore my feminine side, though she is quite a masculine character. She will be one hundred per cent woman,” Suchet insisted.

He said he would avoid camp jokes or “falsetto voices or anything like that”.

“I will use my upper register. The wit expressed has got to get the audience — not the way I sound.”

Adrian Noble, the play’s director, and costume designer Peter McIntosh summoned Suchet to a theatrical costumier to test-drive one of his costumes.

“They were surprised to find a waist on me,” the actor declared. He conceded that, waist or no waist, a corset is still imperative. “I will be very tied in, there,” he laughed, gesturing towards his midsection.

“I want, as much as possible, to try and find the right kind of shape for her; and how she moves will be important, too.’ Designer McIntosh said that Suchet’s legs would be concealed under the voluminous dress and petticoats. ’We won’t be seeing them, but I can only say: they’re shapely.”

Concluding the outfit will be some specially made shoes. ‘He’s got bigger feet than most women,’ McIntosh explained. Philip Cumbus has been cast as Algernon Moncrieff and Michael Benz plays John (Jack) Worthing. Richard O’Callaghan will portray Reverend Chasuble.

Suchet said he urged producers Kim Poster and Nica Burns to let him tour the play. “I like touring, and with this one I can work out some feminine issues relating to Lady Bracknell.”

A lot of male thespians are into playing women.

Last week I wrote about Eddie Redmayne’s preparations to portray transgender pioneer Einar Wegener in Tom Hooper’s film The Danish Girl.

The Importance of Being Earnest, which co-stars Michele Dotrice, Emily Barber and Imogen Doel, will be at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, from June 24 following a six-week UK tour.

From: www.dailymail.co.uk

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