The Importance of Being Earnest
Written by: Oscar Wilde
Directed by: Jonathan Price
Circa Theatre, 7th Oct 2023
Reviewed by: Tanya Piejus
The challenge in producing any classic play that potential audience members may have seen before, perhaps more than once, is to do something fresh and different. Circa Theatre’s latest take on this well-known Victorian script is wild (pardon the pun) but it works wonderfully.
Fully embracing the duplicity of its denizens, Jonathan Price’s production twists tradition by cross-casting two of its main characters, Algernon Moncrieff and Gwendolen Fairfax. Isobel MacKinnon makes a lively and likeable Algie and her physical, sisterly joshing with Jack Worthing (Andrew Paterson) nails the core of their relationship long before they know they are family. Ryan Carter makes the character of Gwendolen sharply snobbish and gives her instant friendship with Cecily Cardew (a charming Dawn Cheong) a whole new and contemporary dynamic.
Irene Wood as Lady Bracknell is trousered and terrifying with her crystal-topped cane, and her impeccable comic timing gets some of the biggest laughs of the night. Peter Hambleton’s unctuous and overly sexed Reverend Chasuble is another delight as he excessively enunciates and makes the word ‘pagan’ sound deliciously dirty. Anne Chamberlain provides entertaining support as the uptight Miss Prism and as the man himself, Paterson gives joyous energy to the Bunburying Jack/Ernest.
Mention must also go to a scene-stealing Rebecca Parker, who double-dips as underlings Lane and Merriman and drives the best scene change I’ve ever watched as she sweeps aside the cascade of pink roses that litter the set and launches into the most unexpected song.
The startlingly effective production design (Meg Rollandi) is as effervescent as the acting with bright colours, lush fabrics, and a three-quarters, intimate space peppered with frequently relocated chairs. It allows the actors to move with ease and constantly break the fourth wall to suck the audience into their world.
This Earnest is surprisingly sassy, sexy, sunny, spirited, and just a bit silly as it grabs Wilde’s warm wit and waves it like a rainbow flag at a Pride parade.