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Review: The Importance of Being Earnest at Roslyn Packer Theatre

Review by Charlotte Leamon

Oscar Wilde’s farcical comedy The Importance of Being Earnest is witty, sharp, and intimidating to programme. After years of being discussed and set aside by artistic director Kip Williams, Sydney Theatre Company has finally staged this trivial comedy.

Obscured by one-liners, the underlying message of this play is to satirise class and wealth through the ignorance of power. Highlighting the issues of aristocracy, this play is subtitled, “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” for good reason. So why stage this play now? Whilst times have changed, we still value wealth and our perception of self-worth as a society. Playwright Van Badham reflects upon the message stating:

“one likes to imagine, as - year after year, and all over the world - crowds confront the incompetent and indolent ruling class on the sage, Wilde’s eternal revenge is the sound of their laughter.”

Curtains reveal an elaborate set, yet what more would you expect when parodying the first class wealth of the Victorian era? The tall ceilings of the Roslyn Packer theatre are to the advantage of the set designer Charles Davis. We are brought into Algernon Moncrieff’s flat in London, celebrating a sitting room with chandeliers, velvet sofas, an upright in the hallway and polished floors aplenty. On stage left we see the dirty and dusty kitchen where the servants spend their time. This split stage between upper and lower class is interesting and effective, visually satirising the themes of difference that Wilde wrote.

As we hear a classical arrangement of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” we are introduced to the house staff. Directed with comic perfection, this sequence speaks volumes as we see the difference in class as Algernon slumbers on the velvet sofa in the sitting room as the others run around to serve him. Set transitions are accompanied by these modern classics (i.e. “No Scrubs”) arranged for the Classical by Stefan Gregory. Costume design is grand and comic thanks to Renée Mulder. Her camp costumes for characters of Gwendolen and Lady Bracknell in particular receive roars of laughter from the audience.

Each cast member brought their individual flair to their character. Sean O’Shea somehow floats in an extremely unstable manner, showing hatred turned aloofness towards Algernon. Constantly attempting to kill himself in creative ways, he doesn’t seem to mind too much when things get in the way. This unbothered attitude makes this character all the more funnier thanks to O’Shea. Megan Wilding as Gwendolen Fairfax thrives in this role. Her elaborate dresses restrict her ease to walk, allowing Wilding to physicalise the humour of this character. Her deadpan nature of delivering witty lines made her shine. Melissa Kahraman as Cecily was bubbly and girl-like, imploring to be the mischievous eighteen-year old. Whilst her character isn’t the most humorous, she balanced her performance well by not overdoing a role which can be overshadowed by the other visibly comic characters. Rather, her stature and broad cheesy smile won the audience over.

The plot centres around characters Algernon Moncrieff (Charles Wu) and John Worthing (Brandon McClelland). It is truly important to be earnest for them both, as their love lives depend on obtaining the christian name of Earnest. McClelland plays Worthing in a self-deprecating manner. Yearning for Fairfax’s love and wishing for nothing else, McClelland let’s the hopeless romanticism of this character fly. Wu is playful with his take on Algernon. His flirtatious and cheeky approach to this character is elegant and captivating. The connection between these two on stage is exquisite, as their comic timing with one another seems effortless.

I’m glad Williams waited until it felt right to stage this production. The creative team and cast were equal stars in this show. Taking on a true camp approach to truly satirise and accentuate these societal issues was most effective. A truly wonderful staging of The Importance of Being Earnest by STC.

Image Credit: Daniel Boud

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