“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing.” And, indeed, St Hilda’s Drama Society brought style to their production of Oscar Wilde’s 1895 The Importance of being Earnest. Wilde’s play is a tale of deception, social obligation, and farce, that lies somewhere between self-parody and deceptively flippant commentary on society and the dramatic genre of Victorian Melodrama. It is a challenging piece to produce effectively as the art of the play lies predominantly in the dialogue itself and the manner in which this is delivered, leaving the onus very much upon the actors.
The cast, on the whole, was strong, and responded well to this challenge. A fantastic level of respect was shown to the beauty of long silences, pregnant with comic awkwardness, allowing what was not said to speak louder than what was said. I would have liked to see Callum Luckett (Jack Worthing) relax a little more on stage, as it might have made his role slightly more believable. For the most part, however, he brought the necessary charm and deceitful air to the protagonist’s part. Similar comment can be made about Mary Montgomery (Gwendolin Fairfax) and Nadia Campbell-Brunton (Cecily Cardew) who stumbled their lines initially, but once settled, proved a fantastic duo – polarizing each other’s characters magnificently, and leaving the audience in stitches during the renowned cake and tea scene.
For me, however, Iarla David Manny (Lady Bracknell) and Andrew Crump (Algernon Moncrieff) stole the show. Iarla’s rendition of Lady Bracknell was comedy gold – his delivery of some of Wilde’s most famous lines (“a handbag?!”) were outstanding, and his timing impeccable. And yes, I say he, as director Lata Nobes opted for a gender blind casting, producing wonderful results and, as she commented, being, “highly appropriate for the week following St Hilda’s Gender Equality festival, adding a new dimension to a play written by one of the most famous LGBTQ writers.” Andrew Crump played the perfect dandy – flamboyant, arrogant, yet utterly charming. Congratulations to all the cast.
Praise is also due to the director, who had the actors in modern attire and using modern technology such as iPads. Particularly striking was Crump’s suave leather jacket and Lady Bracknell’s fluorescent pink sunglasses and floral jumpsuit in the final scenes. The simplicity of the set was another highlight, as we were drawn, as intended, to the dialogue. The only hint of decadence was injected by the grand piano in the corner – a nice touch.
All in all, this rendition of The Importance of Being Earnest was fantastic – the comedy was on point, the acting most impressive, and it brought a great deal of laughter to us all in the final push before 8th week.
The Importance of Being Earnest is playing at the Jacqueline Du Pre Music building from the 7th -9th March.