The Importance of Being Earnest

‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ was a mockery of the aristocracy, written by Dublin-born playwright Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde and first performed in 1895, an immediate triumph. 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 ‘Salome’, but was refused a performance licence.

Wilde prosecuted the father of his lover, the Marquis of Queensberry for libel, but the defence found he was gay, so instead Wilde was imprisoned for two years’ hard labour.

He died in Paris aged only 46 – destitute.

This lively satire from Serial Productions – the company that have brought us some of the community theatre’s biggest comedy hits of the past few years – is presented in conjunction with the Stirling Players at the Stirling Theatre, Morris Place, Innaloo. Once again, the group are pleased to be supporting the Heart and Lung Transplant Foundation of WA, with this production.

The two and a half hour witty and absurd performances are on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the slightly earlier time of 7.30 pm, with matinées on Sunday 28th August and 4th September at 2.00 pm

It is the 1930s.   Act 1 is set in Algernon’s very smart, aristocratic sitting room with genuine Art Deco, quality furnishings (Lesley Sutton). The centrepiece is the famous fan-shaped window and doors of the period.

Act 2 is Jack Worthing’s Hertfordshire, country garden, complete with limestone wall, archway, trellis and garden furniture. Even the edge of the stage apron had miniature privet along its length.

Act 3 is Jack’s drawing room, overlooking the garden, had a dormer window and Victorian furniture.

The set was by George Boyd, Peter Clark and the team. Stirling Theatre’s own team provided the excellent lighting.

       Lane, the butler (Clare Fazackerley) sings as he tidies up Algernon’s flat, in preparation for the arrival of the brusque, controlling Lady Bracknell (Keith Scrivens) and her beautiful daughter, Gwendolen (Amanda Watson). Unexpectedly, Algernon’s (Joe Isaia) best friend, Jack (Rodney Van Groningen) calls around, he has come to tell the self-centred Algernon that he intends proposing to the ever orgasmic, Gwendolen.

     Algernon mentions to upright Jack, that he has found a cigarette case with what appears to be a love message engraved in it – from Jack to a woman. Could it be that Jack is leading a double life? as is Algernon, who has a secret friend ‘Bunbury’.

      The lecherous dandy, Algernon discovers that Jack’s ward, Cecily (Krysia Wiechecki) is now 18 years old, wealthy and ready for plucking. Surreptitiously, Algernon finds out where she lives and decides to pay her a visit, posing as Jack’s brother.

     Algernon calls whilst Cecily is studying with her middle-aged tutor, Miss Prism (Jacqui Warner). Being a typical teenager, Cecily is immediately besotted with Algernon, and so when Miss Prism goes out for a walk with her close friend, Dr. Chasuble the local rector (John Taylor), the passions flow – although the constant interruptions from Cecily’s butler, Merriman (Brendan Tobin) cramps her style.

When I heard that ‘The Importance of being Earnest’ was being staged yet again – I must have seen it more than a dozen times – I asked some of the cast ‘Why?’ and pointed out that they were making a mistake, it had been done to death. OK, I was wrong, very wrong.

Serial Productions are a team synonymous with quality. Being a closed group of well-proven actors, the acting is immaculate, the sets and costumes stunning, and the teching just goes that extra inch. Every aspect from the foyer display to the programme has been considered.

Even though director Peter Clark has won awards for his direction, and is a first class comedy actor, tackling ‘Earnest’ was still major a challenge. The purists may cringe, but Peter has chosen ‘a mild farce’ as the genre. The director has decided not to present the key line of the play in ‘Dame Edith style’, a slight disappointment. As the show progressed, I slowly came to the conclusion that this was probably the style that Oscar had in mind. It got so many more jokes, double entendres and touches of bawdiness than I have ever seen before, and they all worked so well. Hilarious.

Under the supervision of Rob Warner, the major scene change (by the cast) from sitting room to garden took only 60 seconds. At the beginning and end of every scene, Lane the Butler (Clare Fazackerley) melodically sang a few verses of songs from the period. Sound by George Boyd.

The costumes (Nyree Clark) were stunning, from the extravagant, dandyish outfit of Algy to the pastel silks of the young women. Then there was Lady Bracknell, again with stylish clothes, topped with a striking collection of feathered fascinators.

The date of the play has been moved forward 40 years to the mid-thirties, this has allowed for a fresh approach to the usual, slightly stuffy, Victorian approach.

Talking to some audience members, I was amazed how many had not seen the play before. This is a first class comedy, with a very clever set of storyline threads brilliantly presented. Seen it before? Then see it again – and love it.

Two and a half hours of non-stop fun from one of Perth’s best comedy teams.