‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde is being presented by Theatre Arts at Curtin’s Hayman Theatre. Please don’t do as I did and say, ‘oh no, not another version of this well-worn comedy’. This AMAZING production shows the true brilliance of Wilde. Although this poet and playwright was born in Dublin and died in France just after his 46th birthday, this very British comedy is in the same league as that true English man, Noël Coward.
This play was written in 1895 just before Lord Queensberry had him declared ‘a sodomite’ and poor Wilde was imprisoned, so the play was not published until his release 3 years later, just before his death. Wilde was given a pardon for his homosexuality 107 years later when the Alan Turing Law came into agreement.
The play can be seen at The New Hayman Theatre in building 302, on the Curtin University campus in Bentley. Enter off Manning Road, turn right at the roundabout and drive for approx. 1 km to the car park behind the bus station. Follow the illuminated cones to the theatre.
The 105-minute performances come alive each evening at 7.00 until Saturday 12th October. The tickets are $20, $15 for concessions, but there was a full house last night and I suspect booking could be essential.
The play was presented in-the-round, a first for the new theatre.
The Set: was designed by Philip Miolin. It is quite simple in construction (Matt Jones) but with the surprise flower beds – still haven’t worked out how they did that – coupled with the superb Visual Projections from Sebastian Boyd the appearance was that of two opulent domiciles.
Ten years ago, the projectors had to be at least 10 metres from the backdrop to cover the whole wall. There were actors’ shadows all over the background; on this show, the short drop projector was only 10 cms in front of the white flat and yet the image was crisp and evenly lit. Incredible!
The Props supplied by Tiahna McBride, Nadiya Shakeer and Canaan Thevarakam ranged from a gold fob watch and rose gold spectacles for Lady B, to watch chains for the men (the bottom waistcoat button was always left undone for the watch Albert to go through), old suitcases, valuable crockery, silverware and wine accoutrements.
Very good lighting design by Tim Lorian and smoothly operated by Elizabeth Offer.
Jonathan Hoey’s soundscape covered Algernon’s annoying piano practice, through to the subtle chirping of the finches in the garden (volume level spot on).
Production manager Stephen Carr had a great squad, stage managed by Jasmine Valentini and her assistant Isobel McWilliams
The manservant, Lane (Nelson Fannon) who is also the ‘partner in crime’ for his playboy boss, Algernon (Samuel Ireland) is arranging the catering for the arrival of Algy’s dour aunt, Lady Bracknell (Amber Gilmour). A perfect gentleman but of dubious lineage, Jack (Matt Arnold) arrives hoping his secret love, Lady B’s self-assured snobby daughter, Gwendolen (Pauline Rosman) will accompany her mother on the visit.
However, Jack has a secret life. He travels to the outskirts of London to see his ward, Cecily (Kyra Belford-Thomas), an eighteen-year-old lady that he has cared for since she was a baby. When he is away in London, Jack has relied upon Miss Laetitia Prism (Kailea Porter) a strange, sexually frustrated schoolmarm to look after Cecily.
During their banter, Algernon disclosed to Jack (also known as Ernest), that he has a secret signal – a non-existent friend, ‘Bunbury’ – whom he uses to get out of tight situations. Algernon slowly gets Jack to reveal his secret relationship with Cecily, then decides to visit her at her home!
Miss Prism consults the Canon Fredrick Chasuble (Massimiliano Viazzo) on a very important matter, whilst the ancient retainer, the butler Merriman – who is portrayed as two servants with one name – takes care of visitors and domestic chores. One butler is an anxious, tall thin croaking man (Travis Koch) and the other a quivering, expressionless smaller butler (Alex Hutchings) who had to do all the manual work. Fabulous characterisation.
There is plenty of love in the air, but no one can be assured of finding a partner.
The elegant and sophisticated costumes were designed and created by Kiri Siva, aided by Riya Srivastava, Diana Ndombai, Jane Tero and Amber Anderson. The fabulous copper-coloured silk dress of Lady B was lined with a ginger material and edged with yellow braid. Young Cecily had a youthful design, but it was still immaculately finished. Gwendolen had a handsomely fitted, ankle-length leaf green coat.
The men were mainly in suits, but even they had special trims, like Jack’s brown suede collar. Their cravats were matching and authentic. Algernon’s outfit had to match his flamboyant character, so he wore plus fours with red golf socks and tan shoes!
Director Philip Miolin assistant director Jemima Hill have really worked with this cast. They were aristocratic, had poise and fabulous vocal projection and diction. The actors’ use of wordplay was gifted. The director has employed the entire stage, with characters often within the audience whilst arguing across the full width of the auditorium. This whole approach made the show come alive. Like so many people, I have seen this play almost a dozen times, with Lady Bracknell as a senile complaining snob, even as a light-hearted derogatory cross-dressed actor (see David Suchet), but this is the first time I have seen her played as Wilde probably envisaged. Amber Gilmour inhabited Lady B, with every fibre in her body, displaying the full depth of her emotions and thoughts. The ‘handbag’ delivery has been famous since Dame Edith Evans in 1952, but Amber’s clever timing and new approach was breathtakingly good. Her vocal range went from a soft almost caring voice, to a crow like shrill and on to a pitch that even dogs would find hard to hear. A rare and outstanding performance at any level of acting – including professional. The other leads and the supporting cast were constantly terrific. Could this be Perth’s best ‘Earnest’ in decades?
The promotion and marketing team, Jake McIntyre and Morgan Farley Bookings should like to point out that bookings can be made with leigh Brennan at email@example.com
BRILLIANT, don’t miss it. Amazing teamwork.