Bunbury is Dead – a brand new work by a writer who has himself been deceased for well over a hundred years…

Using extracts from the vast catalogue of work which Oscar Wilde wrote over his lifetime, Tobacco Tea Theatre Company has constructed a witty hour of satire that explores the absurdity of nineteenth century manners and high society. All of this is achieved thanks to the tribulations of Bunbury; the fictional friend of Algernon in Wilde’s famous The Importance of Being Earnest.

Once the stage crew had disappeared having done their final pre-show tweaks (something which somewhat disrupted the atmosphere carefully created by the Gilbert and Sullivan-esque mood music and the minimalist bachelor pad set up on stage) the action began straight away and didn’t let up until the very end.

We met instantly the familiar stock characters of butler and dandy; Douglas and Bunbury, and it has to be said that the actors portraying the pair were a fantastic duo. They complimented each other perfectly in their Jeeves and Wooster style combination of the long-suffering, highly intelligent manservant who is bound to waiting on a self-important, but charming, upper-class playboy.

Along the way we also met the requisite interfering aunt (she-who-must-be-obeyed), the hopelessly love-struck associate, and the beautiful heiress who is the object of the aforementioned affections. Although, as is so often the case, she only has eyes for his friend – in this case the “bed-ridden” Bunbury.

There’s no time for your attention to wander as each new line holds a wealth of insight into the perversity of good manners in high society, the scandal of scandal and the importance of reputation in the 1890s. This naturally leads the audience to reflect on the difficulties Wilde faced in his lifetime thanks to his unconventional lifestyle. Equally it’s interesting to note how many of Wilde’s observations are still highly relevant today. Both of these lines of thought leave plenty of scope for lively post-show debating.

Overall this is a short but very well crafted piece of theatre performed by a sparkling cast. Although the philosophical nature of the script means that this is not a play during which you can sit back and switch off after a long day at the office, the humor, both in terms of pithy social comment and in terms of subtle slapstick (corpses can be wonderful cup holders we discover), makes for a thoroughly enjoyable and utterly cultural romp.

From Bath the show is travelling on to Bristol and then to the Edinburgh Fringe. For future tour dates and further information on Bunbury is Dead, visit www.tobaccoteatheatrecompany.co.uk.

***1/2 Stars
Jenni Waugh