The Importance of Being…. Earnest?

10/08/21

The Pleasance, EICC, Edinburgh

The clue is in that question mark. Oscar Wilde’s original must be one of the best known plays of all time. But director Simon Paris has something rather different in mind. Is it possible, he wonders, to incorporate members of an audience into the play, and produce something that’s identifiable as Wilde’s creation, but with an unpredictable, spontaneous edge? And here’s the result.

It all starts recognisably enough, with Algernon (Guido Garcia Lueches) and Lane (Rhys Tees) setting up the familiar soirée and indulging in some razor-sharp banter as they go. But then we reach the point when they introduce ‘Ernest’ – and, oh no! The actor playing him has done a runner! Enter the harassed director (Josh Haberfield), who points out that there’s a live recording tonight and the show must go on at any cost. So he quickly enlists the services of a woman from the crowd to embody the central role. She’s whipped backstage, decked out in some period clothing and let loose to strut her stuff amongst the other members of the cast – which, I have to say, she does with considerable authority and to much hilarity.

Enter Lady Bracknell (Susan Hoffman), Cecily (Louise Goodfield) and Gwendolyn (Trynity Silk), who must all interact with ‘Ernest’ as best they can, but we’re just getting started. As the play progresses, the professional actors are forced to leave the stage one after another, for a whole variety of reasons. Too much alcohol? Check! A part in a Harry Potter production? Ditto! The resulting gaps are promptly filled by other members of the audience.

It’s roistering, good-natured stuff and the actors – with much help from the ever-inventive stage manager, Josh (Benn Mann) – have to work hard to cover the confusion and ensure everything makes sense. The result is fast, frenetic and farcical. Garcia Lueches enacts a brilliant sword fight – with himself – and there’s a delightful sequence where a drunken Gwendolyn staggers around the stage flailing with a metal tray at anyone who steps into range. Oscar Wilde will probably be turning in his grave, but nonetheless, this is the kind of show that exemplifies the Edinburgh Fringe and one that delivers a truly interactive experience.

There hasn’t been much to make us smile of late, so this jaunty production is particularly welcome. Come on, get down to The Pleasance EICC and be ready to do more than just watch!

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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