GWEN Taylor leads The Original Theatre Company’s cast for Oscar Wilde’s The Importance Of Being Earnest in the role of Lady Bracknell, visiting York Theatre Royal from Tuesday.

This not the first time she has played Lady B, however. "I first did the play at South Hill Park [an arts centre housed in country house set in parkland, with theatres, a cinema, galleries and studio spaces] at Bracknell in Berkshire about a year and a half ago," says Gwen.

"Apparently Oscar had been entertained there by a rather upstanding family, who said he wrote the play there...though he probably didn't, but they have a Wilde Theatre there and we did it there for seven performances to give the place a little profile."

In the cast alongside Gwen was The Original Theatre Company's artistic director, Alastair Whatley, playing Jack Worthing. "Because of that show's success, Alastair decided to take the play around the country," says Gwen.

The tour has "five or six weeks" still to go with Gwen revelling in playing Lady Bracknell in Wilde's comedy of manners. "It's up there [as a celebrated role], and it's one of those plays where people have fixed ideas and you have to try to put that to one side and let each actor bring their own personality into it," she says. "I don't think you can ever please everyone, as you've just seen with the Olivier Awards results."

She is working with Alastair for a second time after he produced a production of Emlyn Williams' psychological thriller, Night Must Fall a couple of years ago. "That was another not terribly nice woman, Mrs Bramson, in a wheelchair. I think I'm getting quite a reputation for playing gorgons!" says Gwen.

In Wilde's blissful comedy of romance, identity, perambulators and capacious handbags, Jack Worthing endeavours to marry the beautiful Gwendolen, but first he must convince the fearsome Lady Bracknell of his respectability, but is Lady B really a gorgon? Or indeed a tornado? "A tornado? I'm a gentle breeze," says Gwen.

"Like Mrs Bennet [in Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice] she is in a position where she has one daughter who she wants to marry someone rich. It's the end of the society season and Gwendolen is with someone Lady Bracknell considers to be totally unsuitable, and she's getting to the point of it being ridiculous in her view.

"That still resonates with people today and what's been wonderful is we've been playing to young audiences as the play is on the school curriculum. They've been asking if we've brought it up to date and we've said, 'No, every word is Oscar's."

York Press:

"You don't have to just come on and be horrible," says Gwen Taylor on the art of playing Lady Bracknell. Picture: The Other Richard

What did Gwen learn from playing Lady Bracknell at South Hill Park? "I learned that I would like to do it again; that I wasn't afraid of it; that she's a human being who you can work out. You don't have to just come on and be horrible on stage," she says.

"I'd gone through a period of thinking I wouldn't tour again, but this role was far too attractive to turn down, though I'm of a ripe old age [Gwen is 79] where I'm beginning to find it more difficult and I couldn't do it without the support of my husband, Graham Reid.

"I love playing Lady Bracknell. She's witty, she's bright and clever, and I think she's moved above her station, having probably seduced Lord Bracknell when she was a real beauty in her day. There's a snobbery there, a need to keep up with society and she's not going to give one quarter away.

"She also thinks gentlemen should stay at home and leave her to do the talking! She's a life force in that family and I like to think of her as a real feminist in a way."

One of the joys of The Importance Of Being Earnest is the costumes, here designed by Gabriella Slade. "She gave us ideas for the costumes and I said I didn't want Lady Bracknell to be the last word in high fashion," says Gwen.

"I wanted her to be a few years out of date but someone who knows what she likes and is not going to dabble in the latest haute couture. It's true of a lot of women who've had their heyday and continue to wear the make-up they wore 20 years ago because they still like it and want to see that face in the mirror.

"But we've always said Lady Bracknell is like a ship in full sail when she enters a room with a huge hat and a full bustle, which was somewhat out of date when Oscar wrote the play in 1895!"

Gabriella Slade has designed the set too. "It's set on the cusp of art nouveau so it's an intriguing design," says Gwen. "Some people like it, some people don't, and I don't mind that!"

The Original Theatre Company present Oscar Wilde's The Importance Of Being Earnest, York Theatre Royal, Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm, plus 2pm Thursday matinee and 2.30pm, Saturday. Box office: 01904 623568 or at