Review: The Importance of Being Earnest
Circa Theatre’s The Importance of Being Earnest has marked itself down as a fantastic retelling of my favourite non-New Zealand play, and an excellent night out besides.
Staged in a thrust stage in Circa One, Jonathan Price’s directorial hand is evident as a play that is often so caught in (delightful) internal conversations is broadened out and gifted to the audience via plenty of asides, acrobatics and knowing winks.
You’ll likely know the story of this piece, but in the event that you don’t, here’s an outlining. Algernon (Isobel Mackinnon) and Jack (Andrew Paterson) are upper-class society mates. Jack has a house in the country and divides his time between his city and country residences, using a different name in each. He is desperately in love with Gwendolen (Ryan Carter), and hopes to marry her. Algernon refers to Jack’s escapades as “bunburying” and decides to do a spot of his own to seduce Jack’s ward, Cecily (Dawn Cheong). Along the way there’s missed connections, mysterious pasts, and a whole lot of capering.
This is a glorious staging of this story, for it manages to ride the line between wholly satirical and also giving the characters space to be bold and resonant in their identities – something that Wilde does well in his original script but is often mocked in stagings. This is especially important when two of the characters are being played by performers in drag. Sure, the entire script takes place over a handful of days, involves several improbable romances and shows off upper class folk without interrogating their circumstances, but in a play this nuanced, it’s fine to just sit in the nonsense for two wonderful hours.
It is a willfully, wonderfully camp show with bold musical numbers and equally as bold choices, re-imagining a classical play with many contemporary twists. Inclusion of little games on stage amongst the wider staging delight and catch the eye – I especially enjoyed the actors taking chivalry to the max when leading around the venerable Lady Bracknell (Irene Wood) at the top of the show, alongside the sheer delirious lust Miss Prism (Anne Chamberlain) and Rev. Chasuble (Peter Hambleton) seemed to have for each other.
Circa’s The Importance of Being Earnest is an unappreciated gem and only on for a few more days. The acrobatics, wild blocking, heightened performance and sheer joy in the work is something that shouldn’t be missed.