In 1890s England, Algy Moncrieff (played with a knowing, camp charm by Tim Sekuless) and his friend Jack Worthing (Martin Searles) are a spirited pair of London dandies who are desperate to win the hands of the women they love. Their chosen brides are their dream women – except that they have a pathological aversion to any name other than Earnest. Adopting this name is the least of their troubles when the imposing Lady Bracknell arrives to guard her beloved daughters reputation and investigate her suitor. Moving between London and the country, this farcical comedy of mistaken identities and liaisons gathers speed as the rakish pair attempts to conceal their duplicity and prevent the discovery of some astonishing truths.

The Importance of Being Earnest is the most popular of Oscar Wilde’s society comedies, all of which were artistic and commercial successes upon their debut. One of Wilde’s contemporaries, theatre critic William Archer, wrote in 1893 that in ‘intellectual calibre, artistic competence – and in dramatic instinct – Mr Wilde has no rival among his fellow workers for the stage.’ These qualities are still in evidence today, and Free Rain Theatre Company’s production successfully draws out all that is best about this so-called ‘trivial comedy for serious people’.

One of the defining features of Wilde’s plays is their endlessly quotable dialogue, and the cast clearly relish their lines. Director Liz Bradley’s decision to present the play in its original four act structure paid off, with the presence of dialogue that is frequently omitted from other productions lending a freshness to such a well known text. A common pitfall with Wilde productions seem to be actor’s tripping over their lines as they rush to deliver witty aphorisms and epigrams, and some of the less experienced performers in the production had minor problems in this area.

As is often the case, the acerbic Lady Bracknell (a wonderfully domineering performance from Judi Crane) steals the show with some of the best lines in the play. The younger generation are equally good, with a dreamy Cecily Cardew (Alex de Totth) creating some of the funniest moments of the evening. Cecily’s requirement that Algy repeat his declaration of love for her so that she may transcribe it verbatim into her diary is very enjoyable, and the afternoon tea Cecily takes with Gwendolen (Ylaria Rogers) is perfectly played by the two women, effectively satirising the capriciousness of the characters and the fickle nature of female friendship. Canon Chasuble (Geoffrey Borny) and Miss Prism (Gabrielle Hyslop) also play up the hilarity of their mature romance, as their stiff knees and obscure botanical references providing great comedy.

The production is lovely to look at, appropriately for a play that is a celebration of artificiality – as Gwendolen states, ‘in matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing’. The play is firmly set in the period when it was written, and is supported by the aesthetic elements of the production, with a striking stencilled wall design being especially beautiful. Wayne Shepherd’s set design was much commented on in the interval by audience members, as was the period costume design by Fiona Leach, with the men in particular looking very dapper. Imbued with a wonderful sense of frivolity and a great rapport between actors, this production has the ability to create fresh converts to Wilde’s plays whilst pleasing those who are familiar with them.

Free-Rain Theatre Company presents
The Importance Of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde

Director Liz Bradley

Venue: Canberra Theatre Centre | London Cct, City ACT
Dates: 30 April - 16 May 2010
Times: Wed - Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 5pm

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