The Importance of Being Earnest is one of those plays that 'everybody knows' in the theater circles. It's kind of like what The Godfather or A Clockwork Orange is to the cinematic universe. Until last night, I had never seen any of the three aforementioned works ( I know, I know). I am delighted to now say that seminal list is down to two. And I am furthermore delighted to have been introduced Oscar Wilde's highly acclaimed play 'The Importance of Being Earnest' by this brilliantly directed production.
Those who are familiar with the play in text or theatrical form will know that 'Earnest' is a comedic critique of the Victorian society in which Wilde lived. The heightened dialogue is deliciously peppered with strong wit, and (in this production at least,) executed with the brilliance of comedic timing. Director Matthew Cox has done a spectacular job of helming a production in which he has combined strong character development and comedic set-ups with various acts of 'magic' that are woven seamlessly into the staging. Dense dialogue scenes have been sprinkled with clever, yet unobtrusive tricks with scarves, cards and other props, creating a buzz of excitement early on, which sets the tone for Cox's production as a whole.
What is most impressive about Cox's direction is that he has provided an "outrageous" production (as promised in their marketing), without making the production overtly 'camp' and detracting from the story itself. Most impressive is the performance of Ryan A. Murphy as Lady Bracknell, who's interpretation of the woman likens to that of The Queen of Hearts in the animated Disney classic Alice in Wonderland. His dramatic contrast between self-righteous refinement and piercing intimidation and outright explosive anger is achieved without stepping into the tacky territory of a panto dame. His performance is both truthful and outrageous, all performed whilst wearing the stunning work of costume designer Jacqui Day and her fellow sewer Blanche Lough (and fabulous hats by Zoe Thompson).
The cast are, for the most part, a very strong ensemble of actors. Of particular note are England-born Rosco Dwyer as Jack/Earnest,Mark Yeats as the hysterical Algernon, Cazz Bainbridge as Cecily, and a master of physical comedy - Thomas Jones as Lane/Merriman.
Set design by Mark Kovliov is strikingly simple yet eloquent, complimented by the sensible lighting of Hugh Stephens. Alongside Bracknell's fabulous gowns, Day's overall costume design is consistent, eloquent and beautifully sewn and Madi Cuthbertbert's design of Lady Bracknell's wig is a perfect final touch.
This production is a truely joyous night out at the theatre. A delicate balance of the outrageous and the honest. This is the perfect production which to send high school students along to, to watch a so-often studied text come to life with vibrance, wit and outrageous absurdity..