Directed by Simon Parris
Written by Josh King
Let’s be frank: The Importance of Being Earnest, despite its status as a classic, is a faint and formulaic production which many seek not to experiment with or alter outside of Oscar Wilde’s original comedic trivialisations. The tale in which protagonists maintain fictitious identities to escape the bourgeoisie of social obligations lands them in the most frightful of situations and troubles.
And thankfully, no doubt taking inspiration from Mischief Theatre, Say It Again, Sorry? Take the original story – tear it up, spit it out, crumple the tattered remains and then staple it all back together. And the result? Something utterly and ludicrously enjoyable and unique experience.
For the most part, unfortunate director Simon (Josh Haberfield) is trying his utmost to present a steady showcase to the audience and their live stream. A dependable and professional adaptation of the tale. But get the poor man a drink, he’s going to need it. In attempting to fill the roles of crucial cast members who fall ill, get better offers or just fall – the farcical comedy ramps up the ludicrous nature by entrusting the script to strangers.
Catastrophic brilliance of the loftiest order, the embracement of chaos ensures a triumphant evening. Audience involvement is a must, but rather than the stresses of humiliation, The Importance of Being…Earnest? Instead turns its understudies into gleaming stars of the show – famous for three-quarters of an hour
A cautionary warning – the level of frivolity and engagement from this production is down to the crowd, and those selected to go onstage. If audiences are fortunate enough to receive a ‘Gareth’ or ‘Leslie’ as this evenings were, well, you’re in safe hands. The inclusion of the audience grows and extends beyond the stage and into the venue itself, the company making use of the performance space and pushing the limitations of expectation.
But if anything, there’s room to push the envelope, to commit to the emerging insanity. Embrace the entropy surrounding the production and enable the cast to consign themselves to full-blown roguish behaviour. A few pauses to re-set or inform the audience slow the momentum momentarily, and while it never diminishes the production, aspects, where there is a potential to capitalise, aren’t taken.
Beneath the gutter-comedy and the pratfalls and hilarity, there’s a tremendous understanding of lampooning the same intended targets as Wilde’s original text. The Importance of Being…Earnest? Maintains the central ideas of performance, dual identity, and a raised eyebrow at the behaviours of aristocracy and superficial lifestyles, but now graciously allows the rabble to punch upwards.
Where else could one watch a version of a British classic starring a four-foot Texan who seems to have forgotten Fringe rule number one: If you try to hide – you’re going to be picked. But this is the sort of show where audience members begin to fight over who gets the chance to strut and join in the fun, to get messy and up-close with a talented team and watch the madness unfold.
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