The Importance of Being Earnest
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a classic for good reason, with an inherently witty script, telling the tale of two men who each have a taste for taking on a false persona, entangling one another, and various other characters, in a series of difficulties and misunderstandings through this behaviour. While the play is already farcical, the Beaumaris production was enhanced by the directorial decisions, and the outstanding comic timing of the actors.
Emma Sproule, the show’s director, made the decision to stage the lesser known four-act version of Wilde’s play, rather than the more popular three-act structure. She is careful to state that this was not because she “considered the four-act to be superior”, but rather because she wanted to “give our audience an alternative”, and to help people to consider which they may prefer. This meant the addition of a new character and storyline, and rather than causing the show to drag on longer unnecessarily, this choice was a good one, keeping the audience captivated to the end, and giving a distinctive quality to the performance.
One of the most exciting aspects of this performance was the set, designed by Neil Barnett, which was crafted as a giant pop-up book. At each scene change, rather than blacking out, the lights were simply dimmed, music was played, and the page was turned to the next scene by people dressed as maids and butlers, who then brought on props with a flourish. By allowing the audience to see this taking place, these changes were made an important part of the show, and the set was able to be truly appreciated. While this was an idea sourced from the Sydney Theatre Company rather than an original one, it was effective and executed very well. As well as being interesting, the set was colourful and detailed, and the simple lighting maintained throughout the show allowed the focus of the audience to rest on it.
The experienced cast did a fine job of presenting the loved characters of this play, with expert comic timing and physical humour. Nicholas Barker-Pendree’s hilarious portrayal of Algernon was a highlight of the show, and Matt Allen as John Worthing was every bit his equal. The two played off each other extremely well, and their facial expressions garnered as many laughs as the dialogue itself. The addition of Jennifer Gilchrist and Annabelle Tudor, a real-life mother and daughter, as Lady Bracknell and Gwendolen Fairfax was a special touch that gave further chemistry to the performance of an already talented pair of actors. Kristina Doucouliagos, Judy Sporton, David Dodd, Peter Emery and Tom Travers gave their own performances with gusto. All kept up impressive British accents that were perfectly suited to their characters, and the demands of the extended sections of dialogue in the script were handled well and delivered with nothing more than the occasional stumble over a fast-paced line, and even such stumbles were almost unnoticeable.
Such capable acting was only enhanced by the work of those behind the scenes. The hair and makeup was perfectly matched to the characters, with carefully styled curls and comb-overs that reflected the pomp of the time. The costumes were likewise appropriate, eye-catching and detailed. The dresses of the female leads were lavish, as were their array of headpieces, and the men’s outfits were debonair down to the addition of pocket-watches and cravats. The costumes and the set combined well to create a colourful environment that transported the audience to a fantasy world, reflecting the storybook motif.
All in all, this performance was highly entertaining, and provided a new take on Wilde’s play for its old fans, while providing a delightful introduction for those who may not be familiar with it. It is light-hearted, comic, and all involved have done a wonderful job.
Review by Maddison Snook