The Importance of Being Earnest is irreverent, farcical, and hilarious, all entwined in cutting social commentary. A trivial comedy for serious people, Oscar Wilde’s most beloved play follows two young bachelors through love, deception, and social faux pas. You can expect slapstick, drag, and literal magic. Local outfit Artefact Theatre Co. (ATC) deliver Wilde’s satirical masterpiece with flair, subtlety, and flamboyance. Not just hilarious, they’ve kept and updated all of the subtle (and not so subtle) commentary that allows Wilde’s play to be enjoyed on so many levels.
ATC strike a wonderful balance between keeping a serious critique that’s still relevant today, and delivering the level of outrageousness you’ve always hoped the play would be. Delivered in Victorian costume, speech, and pomp, the production is still a refreshingly modern take on the play. Modern takes on Wilde’s themes of sexuality allow ATC to keep true to the original social protest within the play whilst making the characters thoroughly relatable. From flirtatious glove flicking that will delight pun lovers courtesy of Suzanne Sandow and Frank Handrum to subtle acting that make the most of the double entendres throughout the play – not to mention the fabulous new ones you’d never thought of but will now never forget – that makes the play feel brand new. Thomas Henry Jones’ performance as both Lane and Merriman was as varied as it was delightful, not least because of the wonderful critique of class it provided.
Every part of this production is geared towards adding comedic value – use of lighting and visuals or lack thereof, flamboyant costuming and the intimate setting creates a show that you can get lost in for hours. Couple this with acting that lets us relate to very human foibles, even when presented in the caricatures we are supposed to judge, and you have the recipe for a phenomenal evening. Ross Dwyer and Mark Raymond Yeates are wonderful foils for each other; Dwyer creating an incredulous Jack or John Worthington J.P, complete with some manly shrieking and highly emotional moments, and Yeates presenting a smooth Algernon Moncrieff with a perfectly smug smile for all the wicked things his character gets up to. Cecily Cardew (Cazz Bainbridge) and Gwendolen Fairfax (Olivia Solomons) had us reflecting on the many words women call each other before they call each other ‘sister’, and whilst we laughed at their triviality and the flamboyance with which Bainbridge and Solomons’ represented them, this was one of my favourite critiques.
You may have seen Earnest, but you haven’t seen Earnest like this. As Director Cox says, “This is Wilde four absinthes deep on a Friday night, filters of decorum and decency thoroughly abandoned.” This is a must see for theatre and comedy lovers alike.
The Importance of Being Earnest is playing at St Martin’s Theatre in South Yarra until 7 April 2018. Tickets can be bought online via the Artefact Theatre website or at the door if available.