Magazine cutting from The Sketch

These pictures published in The Sketch record scenes from the first production of Oscar Wilde's comic masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895.

Many reviewers were unimpressed, feeling that the content of the play was too flimsy to be worthy of analysis and that, although undoubtedly funny, it lacked heart. 'It amused me, of course' admitted George Bernard Shaw (no fan of Wilde's), 'but unless comedy touches me as well as moves me, it leaves me with a sense of having wasted my evening'.

The audience at large found no fault, however. Allan Aynesworth, who can be seen in these pictures in the role of Algernon Moncrieff, later recalled 'I never remember a greater triumph. The audience rose in their seats and cheered and cheered again'.

Sadly it wasn't to last. Within a few months Wilde found himself sentenced to prison, and the society which had received him with adulation turned its back on him quickly and completely.