WILDE AT HEART
In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing, said the very Victorian New Woman, Gwendolen, in Oscar Wilde’s comedy, The Importance of Being Earnest. And so, in a few words, the tone of the play and of Evolution Theatre Company’s upcoming production is neatly summed up.
Even though the play is also titled A Trivial Comedy for Serious People, Wilde is renowned for his razor-sharp insights and the wit to make them wildly entertaining as he deflates societal sensibilities.
Wilde’s comic farce centres on young bachelors Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff who create alter egos named Ernest to escape their tiresome lives and to try to win the hearts of two women who claim to only love men called Ernest.
“The pair struggle to keep up with their own stories and become tangled in a tale of deception, disguise and misadventure,” director Dinna Myers wrote in a blurb about the show.
“The elaborate plot ridicules Victorian sensibilities with some of the best loved, and bizarre characters to be found on the modern stage.”
“It is strictly a bit of harmless fun,” said Myers.
“It is the upper class making fun of itself. There’s nothing contentious in it and it’s just what we need right now — to have a laugh and to just relax and forget the past two months.”
The past two months’ lockdown levels meant cast and crew were unable to get into the Disraeli Street theatre to rehearse.
Video conferencing platform Zoom meant the actors could rehearse together while staying inside their bubbles.
“That was super useful,” said Myers.
“It was good at the beginning to rehearse on Zoom but we got to the point when we couldn’t go any further with that, but we got the character study and pronunciation work done so we could walk into the theatre and start bumping into furniture.
“We didn’t know when we would get out of the Covid situation. We wanted to jump when told to jump.”
The cast managed to take rehearsals into the theatre for the past couple of weeks but maintained social-distancing.
Myers designed the set while, possibly best known for their roles as comic character actors, Andrew Stevens and Dave Henderson alternated on the set build. As wardrobe manager, Marie Murphy worked on costumes.
“She is the best in town,” said Myers.
“I can’t believe how well we have managed with so little stress.”
Wilde too seems to have been free of stress when he turned up dressed in “florid sobriety” and sporting a green carnation at the premiere production of his work on Valentine’s Day in 1895. Possibly expecting a play that tackled serious social and political issues, critic George Bernard Shaw suggested in his review that comedy should touch as well as amuse. The writer and theatre critic thought the play was hilarious but was not amused.
“What can a poor critic do with a play which raises no principle, whether of art or morals, creates its own canons and conventions, and is nothing but an absolutely wilful expression of an irrepressibly witty personality?”
But in his review for The Pall Mall Gazette, HG Wells said the show was one of the freshest comedies of the year.
“More humorous dealing with theatrical conventions would be difficult to imagine.”
While the opening night in 1895 was a success, it marked the beginning of the playwright and novelist’s downfall. When the father of Lord Alfred Douglas discovered his son’s affair with Wilde, he planned to attend the premiere, apparently to throw a bouquet of rotten vegetables on the stage. After he left Wilde’s club a few days later, a calling card that read “For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite (sic)” was discovered. Wilde filed a claim for libel.
In court, however, the judge said the case was the worst he had ever tried and vowed to pass the severest sentence the law allowed.
“In my judgement it is totally inadequate for such a case as this,” he said.
“The sentence of the Court is that you be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for two years.”
Wilde did his time and then spent the last three years of his life in exile. He wrote no further comic or dramatic work, died at the age of 45 and was buried in Paris.
Need some cheering up now?
The Evolution Theatre Company has just the thing.
The Importance of Being Earnest, Evolution Theatre, 75 Disraeli St, June 26-July 11. 7.30pm with a 4pm matinee on June 28.
Book at eventfinda via this shortcut, https://tinyurl.com/y7z9br8g