ARTS - Stellar cast earnestly captures Oscar Wilde’s wicked humour.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Three-act comedy by Oscar Wilde. Director Barbara Basel. Set design Alastair Duff. Costumes Barbara Basel and team. Lighting/sound John Blewett. Presented by The Muizenberg Dramatic Society (MADS). At the Masque Theatre until Saturday.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Three-act comedy by Oscar Wilde. Director Barbara Basel. Set design Alastair Duff. Costumes Barbara Basel and team. Lighting/sound John Blewett. Presented by The Muizenberg Dramatic Society (MADS). At the Masque Theatre until Saturday. SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews.
DESCRIBED as a “trivial play for serious people” Oscar Wilde’s last play – The Importance of Being Earnest – found instant success when first produced in London in 1895. This, despite the beginning of court cases that would mark Wilde’s downfall.
But this satirical comedy – in which protagonists skilfully maintain personae mocking the “upper classes”– became even more popular when released as a movie in 1952. Adapted and directed by Anthony Asquith, and produced by Teddy Baird, the stellar cast – headed by Edith Evans as Lady Augusta Bracknell and Margaret Rutherford as Miss Letitia Prism – became hard acts to follow.
MADS director, Barbara Basel, understanding that trying to echo those memorable portrayals could spell disaster, adroitly guided her stellar cast into portraying their characterisations as they “saw” them. Yet, (although the pace of the second act could be crisper), Basel ensured no one lost Wilde’s unique poetic cadences of his rhythmic witty language.
Set against Alastair Duff ’s black and white flats (designed in English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley style) we meet Algernon Moncrieff ’s manservant Lane (Andy Rabagliati) laying a tea-table while Algernon (newcomer Mike Dewar) munches cucumber sandwiches meant for his aunt – Lady Augusta Bracknell (Miranda Lewis) – and her daughter Gwendolen Fairfax (Sara Kate de Beer). Uninvited Earnest/ Jack/ John Worthing (David Sharpe) arrives.
He’s fallen for Gwendolen and has come from his country Manor House to propose. Meeting with unexpected opposition from Algernon the pair “politely” spar until it is revealed that Jack is known as Earnest in town and Jack in the country. It’s also disclosed that Jack has a pretty 18 year-old ward called Cecily Cardew (Grace Brain) who’s governess Miss Prism (Jane Cohen) “is a lady of highest repute.”
To tell more is to spoil Wilde’s plot. But mention must be made of Lewis as Lady Bracknell. Brilliantly played as a snobbish, mercenary aristocrat and Gwendolen’s domineering mother she superbly timed her punch lines to emphasize Wilde’s wicked humour.
Cohen’s Miss Prism delighted delivering one cliche after another while twittering around Rev Canon Chasuble (Richard Higgs) who secretly returns her romantic feelings.
Unfortunately, de Beer’s unflattering costumes rather detracted from Gwendolen’s fixation on the name Earnest. And she appeared more sexy than flirtatious in her first scene with Sharpe. But she, together with the talented Brain, captured the essence of injured dignity when they ganged up against Jack and Algernon, stating “quite categorically” neither could marry someone not named Earnest.
Dewar epitomised a wealthy, idle, self-centred, aristocrat. While Sharpe brought amusing feigned pathos to his scene announcing his brother’s death.
Basel and her cast are commended for capturing the period’s manners to present a highly satisfactory production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest.