By John Pendergast

The premise: 2 actors perform all the parts in that literary classic, The Importance of Being Earnest. Sounds crazy and, let’s be honest, it was more than a little crazy… but all in a good way.

For those unfamiliar with the story, The Importance of Being Earnest is a light-hearted comedy by Oscar Wilde first performed in 1895. It tells the tale of 4 young people who fall in love far too rapidly and uses their story, as well as the stories of certain other stereotypical characters, to mock the institutions of Victorian England. Having been adapted by countless theatre companies, as well as other media, through the years with the likes of Judi Dench and Geoffrey Rush playing the iconic role of Lady Bracknell, it was refreshing to see such a different interpretation.

Adapted by Jon Haynes, Jude Kelly and David Woods, from Ridiculusmus, this riotous production at The Malthouse Theatre kept the audience entertained from start to finished. Performed by Haynes and Woods, the two actors were able to convincingly portray each of the different characters throughout the performance with the clever use of costume and props to support their solid characterisations. Haynes and Woods, as performers, were excellent throughout, managing to keep the script tight and generally well-paced. There were a few moments where some physical comedy was played for laughs and dragged a little, but the pace picked up again quickly and we, as the audience, were able to move on. I particularly enjoyed the contrast between their individual characters for the young lovers. Jon Haynes’ Algernon captured the ‘naughtiness’ of Victorian English bachelors, while his Gwendolyn balanced the line between soppy but oh-so-clever, magnificently. David Woods’ Jack/Ernest was completely daft (in a good way), while his Cecily was hilariously inappropriate. I also admire the way they shared the role of Lady Bracknell with such aplomb, capturing her haughtiness perfectly.

The various stagecraft elements used throughout this production were effective and added to the entire production. The set, portraying the Victorian era with the use of everyday furniture covered in various fabrics, was utilised well, though I would have liked to have seen more of the various cupboards and drawers used, rather than the same four. I did enjoy the use of folding screens to portray the gardens. Costumes were very well thought out and designed. I must admit to being a little worried at the start about the length of time it was taking for the cast to change backstage while the other cast member ‘vamped’ on stage, however this was obviously done for comedic effect and was not overused, as once the show progressed, costume changes became lightning fast and did not stop the flow of the show at all.

The technical elements, including lighting and sound, balanced the production well and helped support the performers. The use of the stereo on stage was particularly effective for building the comedic elements.

Overall, The Importance of Being Earnestd at The Malthouse Theatred is an entertaining, hilarious, riotous, crazy few hours and totally worth it. Keeping the audience laughing the entire way through is no mean feat, but this production does so with ease. Make sure you catch this not-to-be-missed production before it’s too late!

Set: 4/5, Costume: 5/5, Sound: 5/5, Lighting: 5/5, Performances: 4.5/5, Stage management: 5/5, Direction: 4/5

Images: Pia Johnson