Editor-in-Chief William Baxter enjoys a fantastic production of Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’, by 3Bugs Fringe Theatre
In the absence of a witty line worthy of Wilde to start this review, I must simply say this: thanks to 3Bugs Fringe Theatre’s production, I have finally realised The Importance of Being Earnest. The production, running from the 11th to the 13th of May, tastefully updates Wilde’s masterpiece whilst still remaining faithful to one of Britain’s most popular plays.
Plot wise, Wilde’s ‘trivial play for serious people’ is a scream, albeit one that needs following rather closely. The action starts in the London flat of Algernon Moncrieff (Tom Garrett), who playfully pontificates on the idiocy of marriage (Wilde’s own views permeate almost all character conversations) before being joined by his friend Ernest Worthing, who is swiftly revealed to actually be named Jack Worthing (Joe Bonfield). If this sounds a little complicated, bear with, as this ultimately simple but rather funny double name business underpins the entire plot of Earnest. Jack, under the guise of Ernest, intends to propose to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (Rae Doyle), herself desperate to be with a man named Ernest. Her mother, Lady Bracknell (a standout performance by Fionn Creber), however disapproves of Ernest after finding out his only ancestry is a handbag (‘A handbag!’) found in a cloakroom at Victoria Station.
Intending to put an end to his double life, Jack returns to his country house and adopted ward Cecily (Lauren Foreman) along with her tutor, Miss Prism (Amber Gollay) to announce the death of his dear yet troublesome brother Ernest. Unbeknownst to him, Algernon has already arrived at the house and announced himself to Cecily as Ernest. Meanwhile, desperate to marry Ernest Worthing, Gwendolen arrives at the manor, followed in hot pursuit by Lady Bracknell. Farce ensues.
Director Ella Wright’s take is refreshing. At neat intervals (usually important character introductions and set changes) the play is punctured by the addition of tongue-in-cheek pop music interludes and even a full dance routine just before the interval. The first of these gets one of the biggest laughs of the night, with Moncrieff’s manservant/Jack’s butler’s (Charles Michael) rendition of ABBA’s ‘Money, Money, Money’. Special mention also has to go to the three strong dance troupe doubling as rather active stage hands, effortlessly transforming the intimate performing space.
A word has to be said about the dance studio itself, which can’t be described as a natural home for Earnest (or indeed Ernest, for that matter). However, Wright overcomes the problems of this space and uses them to the production’s advantage. Instead of feeling like removed viewers, the audience is quite literally in the very thick of the action thanks to a fourth wall that feels at its highest transparent and at its most relaxed absent entirely. A note of caution – don’t sit in the front row if you’re not prepared to throw a muffin or two or receive a light dowsing of holy water.
All in all, 3Bugs have produced a magnificent Earnest. Of course, with source material this good it would be hard to go far wrong (every line is a ready made witticism), yet all of the players embrace Wilde with gusto. No role is neglected; Charlie Harris’ rather bold interpretation of the Rev. Chasuble is certainly a scene stealer, as is of course the aforementioned Fionn Creber’s Lady Bracknell. A few scuffed lines and slight timing issues prevent perfection, but these can probably be put down to first night teething troubles. Wright, and her lead actors Bonfield and Garrett deliver a fantastic evening’s entertainment. Whether this is your first or one hundredth Earnest, I can promise that it is most definitely worth a watch.