The Importance of Being Earnest is one of Oscar Wilde’s last plays, and his most produced. It has stood the test of time as its themes which stream forth from the ridiculous nature of looking for love are still as relevant now as they were in the nineteenth century.
I’ve seen many productions of this fabulously flamboyant play over the years and it always strikes me that when it is done well it has the audience smiling from the word go. State Theatre Company’s Artistic Director Geordie Brookman delivers the wonderfully wordy text (which literally drips off of the stage) with aplomb, and his take on it is definitely up there with some of the best that I have seen.
Oscar Wilde pushed boundaries as far as he could within the constraints of the conservative British world that he was creating his work within. And while the story is gorgeously silly – the boys trying to get the girls, lies told a-plenty, coincidences a bit too bizarre to be believed and chaotic endeavours to see it all fall in place, between the lines this important literary work was making a mockery of the stilted morals of the time at the expense of the stuffy, hypocritical upper class.
[pull_left]State Theatre Company has programmed well and done grand justice to this stunning play; but ultimately it is Mr Wilde who is the biggest star of this show[/pull_left]
Nancye Hayes as Lady Bracknell is delightfully haughty, with puffed-up control throughout. Bracknell is a role for women at the top of their careers, and Ms Hayes does it proud. Nathan O’Keefe shines as Algernon; his frantic moments, comic timing and punch and physical flexibility perfect for this rich character. Rory Walker is a riot a moment in the three roles he so ably bounces between, and Anna Steen as Gwendolen and Caroline Mignone as Miss Prism are both very good. A special mention goes to Lucy Fry who won me over instantly with her overly sweet and ditzy Cecily.
Ailsa Paterson’s design is nothing short of breathtaking, and one of the best set and costume offerings I have seen in a long time; elegant simplicity at its best! Flowing curtains draped in semi-circle form artfully wrap and un-wrap the action, creating a dazzling inner mansion façade in one scene, a stunning wall of roses in the next and a combination of both to follow, all surrounding perfectly placed minimal set pieces so very indicative of an era. And her costumes are to die for: cleverly going as high camp as is possible before being too over the top to believe. And that is precisely what this play is… almost too much to believe, but hilariously engaging all the way through. Nice work also from composer Stuart Day and lighting designer Gavin Norris.
Oscar Wilde shone for a number of years with great works emerging, but his own life, unique style and finally a scandal related to his sexuality was too much for the conservative and judgemental mainstream to swallow, and sadly he was destroyed by the establishment which once applauded him (mm, has anything really changed?) But his work has lived on and it is his genius that is now having the last laugh, and will continue to for many years to come, I’m sure. State Theatre Company has programmed well and done grand justice to this stunning play; but ultimately it is Mr Wilde who is the biggest star of this show. Outshine Oscar? Not likely!