The Importance of Being Earnest

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is a mockery of the aristocracy, written by Dublin-born playwright Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde. When first performed in 1895, this ageless comedy was an immediate success. Oscar was one of London’s most fashionable playwrights. After studying at Dublin and Oxford University, he lectured in the United States and Canada. He also wrote the risqué ‘Salome’ but was refused a performance licence.

Wilde prosecuted the father of his lover, the Marquis of Queensberry, for libel but the defence decided that he was gay, so instead Wilde was imprisoned for two years of hard labour. He died in Paris aged only 46 – sadly destitute. Wilde was given a pardon for his homosexuality 107 years later when the Alan Turing Law came into agreement.

This extremely lively, two-and-a-quarter-hour satire – a trivial comedy for serious people – has a laugh a minute. It is being presented by the Roxy Lane Theatre, 55 Ninth Ave (corner Roxy Lane), Maylands. The curtain rises at 7.30 pm on these cunning and yet irrational performances on Friday and Saturday evenings until Saturday 17th. There are matinées at 2.00 pm on Sunday 11th and 18th September.

The writing style of this play allows it to be presented in many ways. Here it is presented with a subtle and droll style of delivery. There are many dry comments and snide remarks slipped into the script, please try, and catch them all.

The theatre has fitted LED strip lights on the ceiling. This allows the auditorium lights to be dimmed instead of having the old strip fluorescent tubes simply being switched off.

The Scene:           It is the summer of 1897 in the south of England, the Victorian era when, despite Queen Victoria having nine children, ‘sex’ is an awfully bad word.

Set design:          With such a small stage and virtually no wings where does one put the two sitting room furnishings and all the garden décor? By having an ingenious set design with adaptability.

Set 1                     Afternoon teatime in Algernon’s aristocratic sitting room in Half Moon Street. The walls are pale blue and the woodwork white. A single door leads off to the left. On the rear wall double teak glazed doors open inwards from the passageway. A small drinks table is in the corner. Along the rear of the room is a marble fireplace and to the right a china cabinet. A pink and cream classic French chaise longue and two teak framed armchairs are centre stage.

The butler wheeled in a mahogany trolley with the finest Royal Doulton crockery.

Set 2                     Shows Jack Worthing’s Hertfordshire, country garden, complete with limestone walls, an archway, climbing roses, trellis and garden furniture.

Set construction:               wonderful job by Jim Chantry and Herman Rust. Half of the rear wall in Act 1 swung open and became the left limestone wall of the garden set for Act 2. Very clever planning and construction.

Artistic finish to the garden scene by Celeste Lopez, who also gave us a convincing view of the sitting room from outside.

Props:                                  well sourced by Chris Harris and Kirsten Halford-Bailey

Lighting design:                Russell Chandler

Sound design:                   The tiny soundscape covered Algernon’s annoying piano practice.

Stage manager:                Chris Harris – most efficient.

Front of House:                 Don Weaver & Kirsten Halford-Bailey

Photography, Posters & Programs:           Kirsten Halford-Bailey

There are two intervals for the substantial set changes, but they were quick and silent. Impressive.

Algernon (Max Hingston) is a young, flashy but impoverished society gentleman. Lane, ‘gentleman’s gentleman’ (Ray Condy) is arranging the catering for the arrival of the dreaded aunt; the curt and domineering Lady Bracknell (Kristine Lockwood), one of society’s Grande Dames, who will be accompanied by her beautiful daughter, Gwendolen (Astrid Dainton).

Ernest (Brendan Ellis) a landed gentleman of dubious lineage, arrives unexpectedly to tell his best friend, the self-centred Algernon that he intends to propose to the ever-adoring, but snobbish daughter Gwendolen.

Could it be that Ernest is leading a double life? When he travels to the outskirts of London to see his ward, Cecily (Claire Wesley) an eighteen-year-old lady whom he has cared for since she was a baby, he is known as Jack. Cecily is studying with her elderly tutor and governess, Miss Prism (Rosemary Schultz).

Surreptitiously, the lecherous Algernon finds out where Cecily lives and decides to pay her a visit, posing as her ward, Jack’s brother Ernest. Being a typical teenager, Cecily is at once besotted with Algernon.

When the puritanical Miss Prism goes out for a walk with the local rector Dr. Canon Fredrick Chasuble (Jeff Watkins), for the first time in her life the passions flow – well trickle.

Who is Algernon’s secret friend ‘Bunbury’?

There is plenty of love in the air, but no one can be assured of finding a partner.

The costumes by Celeste Lopez were accurate for the period and stunning. From Algy’s beautifully tailored, dark green smoking jacket to the highly detailed peach and peacock pastel silk gowns of the young women.

Ernest had a casual but smart suit, a scarlet cravat and a matching pocket chief; embellished with white spats. The men’s Victorian mourning hat had a veil trim hanging down the back – good detailing. Even Algernon’s gentleman’s gentleman and Ernest’s butler (the same actor) had different outfits.

Lady Bracknell led the display of elegant and sophisticated gowns, with her opulent wine and white lace creation, and a large brimmed matching hat. Gwendolen had a three-tiered dress with flounces and Cecily a most attractive but simple silk and lace creation. Miss Prism had a ‘sensible’ two-piece suit with a long skirt and a pillbox hat. The ladies had matching feathered fascinators and spangled jewellery.

Every costume was perfectly fitted and stitched. Care was taken with minor embellishments such as cufflinks, cravat pins and even a cummerbund.

Directed by Tim Riessen and assisted by Christine Ellis, the cast was assured of good guidance. Each had superb diction with a meticulous upper-class English accent.

Brendan is a well-respected director, who is actually capable of giving character-filled performances as an actor too. Max is still only 15 yrs. old but he has a CV that many older actors would kill for. Congratulations to Kristine who stepped in at the last minute and yet still managed to deliver a powerful and manipulating Lady Bracknell. I first saw Astrid in PAANDA’s production of a Tennessee Williams play at Notre Dame University four years ago, and even then, she was obviously a talent in the making. It is some years since I last saw award-winning Ray Condy, but here he subtly hints at what he thinks of his employers.

Rosemary’s interpretation of Miss Prism was delightful, she captured the inner feelings perfectly. Claire is a joy to watch, and although she is in only her first community theatre production, her performance was excellent. Jeff is one of these actors who does minor parts, and yet each one is memorable.
The standard of acting was very good with voice, intonation, expression, and body language. The humour and bitchiness are delivered with tongue-in-cheek skill.

If you have not seen this play before, it has a great script and is definitely worth seeing.