Adelaide Fringe 2011
Algernon ‘Algy’ Moncrieff and his good friend JP Worthington find themselves in trouble when each assumes the identity of ‘Earnest Worthington’ for different reasons. Throw into the mix two passionate and eligible young women, Cecily Cardew and Gwendolen Fairfax, who are besotted with the name ‘Earnest’, a highly-disapproving Lady Bracknell, and the result is a comedy of mistaken identities. This satire of Victorian society is witty, fast-paced and compelling with near impeccable performances from the main cast and Oscar Wilde’s unsullied script.
Algy and his friend, who he knows as ‘Earnest Worthington’, banter in Algy’s rooms the trials and burdens of marriage when Earnest reveals that he is in love with Algy’s cousin, Gwendolen. Through a series of repartee and friendly blackmail they then reveal that each of them has been harbouring an imaginary accomplice for when they feel obliged to avoid social obligations in town and the country. Earnest, who then reveals himself to be John (or Jack) Worthington, mentions his young ward Cecily, to whom he feels an overwhelming sense of safeguard, which naturally piques Algy’s interest. The play gains momentum when Algy and John both go to John’s country estate—Algy with the intention of meeting Cecily under the guise of ‘Earnest Worthington’, and John with the intention of ‘killing’ Earnest after he proposes to Gwendolen only to be repudiated by her mother, the formidable Lady Bracknell. While Algy is more than successful in his attempts towards the young flower Cecily (she reveals that they have been engaged for a while), John is forced to reconsider his original plan. All is made even more complicated with the arrival of Gwendolen and her revelation that she is engaged to ‘Earnest’ Worthington. Pandemonium ensues when the irate women confront the men—cue Lady Bracknell and the drama and tension escalates as each character pleads his/her case. Revelations from Cecily’s guardian Miss Prism clears up the confusion and questions about the past, which neatly puts to rest all uneasiness and distress.
The script, which judiciously stayed true to the original, was delivered with confidence from all characters—Algy, played by Joshua Kapita, was a delight to watch and the audience very rarely overlooked his quips and jibes at the characters around him and general societal value, often delivered with cheeky gestures. JP Worthington, the deliberately flustered and fretful friend, was played by Nagesh Omkar, who seemed stilted onstage at the beginning, plunging whole-heartedly into the role only after the intermission. Vanessa Redmond in the role of Gwendolen Fairfax gave a flawless performance as a reserved, upper-class Londoner who is also shrewd and slightly rebellious. Sophia Bubner’s uncanny portrayal of Cecily—a vivacious, effervescent young girl—balanced innocence and naivety with mischievous charm and grace.
Miss Prism and the Reverend Cannon Chasuble, played by Alison Walsh and Matthew Harnett respectively, received laughs from the audience throughout their performance as an absent-minded and easily distracted couple, as did Geoff Dawes who played the sarcastic but obliging butlers. Amy Campbell who played the daunting Lady Bracknell dispensed her lines with perfect diction and timing, however her performance was affected and exaggerated, and considering the transformation other cast members underwent to appropriate their appearances, Campbell only had her costume to define her role.
The lighting also could have been used to greater effect and to differentiate the three backdrops, but the staging and use of the performance space was utilised to advantage with plenty of action and skirmishes to maintain audience interest.
The Importance of Earnest succeeds in amusing audiences and this was a production that did the script justice. It stayed true to the original nature of the play, maintaining the humour and wit of Oscar Wilde and allowing the audience to escape to a colourful world with captivating and contrasting characters, rapid tempo, and much hilarity. Director, James Moffatt, paid great attention to detail and his directing of the background performances added humour to the verbally aggressive dialogues making this a successful and timeless production.