Brighton Fringe 2012
The Importance of Being Earnest
The Red Roaster Coffee House
A cafe venue is the setting for Wilde’s classic. Here’s the billing: "Enjoy an evening out in Wilde’s world portrayed through physical comedy, live music and larger than life characters. Take your seat in our Victorian cafe as this comedy of manners springs to life all around you."
Directed by Ellen Carr, this is a high octane, fast paced ‘Earnest’ and it doesn’t let up until the last revelation. Wilde’s classic is brought lovingly and carefully to life in the Red Roaster cafe setting. The Red Roaster is a terrific place for non-theatre-based theatre with some excellent acoustics and a feeling of culture dripping off the walls. Its a lovely space for performance. Witness Theatre give a collective performance that is one of the most physically and vocally committed I’ve seen on the Fringe this year. And they use the space well.
Now to a big question: How do younger people portray older people at a professional level? Witness go for caricature and do a version of Wilde that is sometimes too melodramatic but what this does achieve is that, even though this is a young cast, we quickly suspend our disbelief and dive, as an audience, willingly into the story. This wasn’t younger people playing older people, this was younger people being older people. They climbed into these older skins with a lot of physical and vocal commitment, and the clear high level of rehearsal came through. Thru rarely stumbled.
Staging is set amid the audience, in the cafe. They made use of all parts of the space well, the piece was well blocked and this enabled the audience, wherever they were sitting, to fully engage.
Ben Foster is Algernon Moncrieff, Martin Joyce is Jack Worthing and both carry their parts off with aplomb, delivering plenty of comedy and ably supported by the rest of the cast, Wilde’s almost musical wit is in safe hands. Many of the classic one liners felt fresh and got well deserved laughs. All of Wilde’s signature one liners are delivered pitch perfectly.
Voice work is uniformly very good, often superb.
One thing thing that isn’t clear is whether the fourth wall is down or not. At points we, the audience are spoken to directly. At others the action continues as if we weren’t there. Which is it? The blurring doesn’t serve the narrative greatly. And it doesn’t seem that consciously designed to be so.
Also this is a vehicle that needs to slow down occasionally and a bit of pacing wouldn’t go amiss. Lines are often delivered at a furious pace and then starts to feel too much like very well acted recitation. This sometimes combines with vocals trapped to high in the upper register and almost shouty. Miss Prism’s waddle is overdone, and although comical, feels out of place and too close to caricature rather than character.
However, I want to leave you wanting to see this production. It’s a full hearted Wilde and I think he would have loved it had he been in the audience. He’d have loved it for its zest, for a cast that have lifted the lines off the page and offered them up as very enjoyable, often very fine theatre fare. Recommended.