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Bunbury is Dead

Disappointed twice in a week by productions that stem from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest? I never thought it would be possible.

Bunbury is Dead is not really about the friend Algernon Moncrief makes up as an excuse for not performing his social duties in Wilde’s play, though the character does share much of Algernon’s DNA.

As the plot unravels, it is clear that Christopher Cutting’s script has a lot to offer. The concept is unique, new and engaging. Bunbury, a character who had to be created out of source material from Wilde’s plays, is every bit as strong as Wilde’s Algernon, and his butler is an equally fine creation. But just about all of the dialogue is borrowed from Wilde, and this I don’t understand.

The play is strong, and could be set in the 19th, 20th or 21st centuries perfectly well. The plot is relatable and the characters recognisable. Wilde’s words simply have nothing to offer here, and they become a distraction. As an inspiration for a lead, even Bunbury is perfect, but as far as I can tell, Cutting really doesn’t need Wilde’s help. The story would be more interesting without being interrupted by Wilde’s words.

It is unfortunate that this didn’t live up to its possibilities.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 3 August 2014 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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The Importance of Being Earnest

the importance of being earnestI was pleased to find £10 tickets for The Importance of Being Earnest at the Harold Pinter Theatre, and I wasn’t even worried about the likelihood of finding a pillar in my view, but it wasn’t that far in that I felt I wanted at least £5 of my £10 back (and the £5 I was happy for them to keep was for the charming set).

This is not so much a poor production as it is a poorly conceived one. Oscar Wilde’s amazingly witty play is couched in a modern super-plot that turns the performance into a final rehearsal for a regional repertory society’s production.

In itself, it does bring some additional humour in the form of extra quips and some additional wit, but it adds nothing of value to Wilde’s play or its message, and I would argue that in so doing, it undermines the quality of Wilde’s work.

I’m no purist. I do like playing with the great works, and appreciate a novel setting or treatment for something as familiar as this, but the problem here lies in how far Wilde stretches our willingness to suspend our disbelief. Lady Bracknell is patently absurd, and yet when performed well, she is recognisable from life and is the engine for the play’s theme. Turning Lady Bracknell into an actor performing Lady Bracknell completely undermines her integrity, and entirely flattens Wilde’s play.

If there was a point being made by the extraneous setting, it may have worked, but it adds nothing worthwhile, and ought to have been eschewed.

The best production I have seen remains Rhys Holden’s Canberra production with Free Rain Theatre in the early noughties, which retained Wilde’s words but provided an entirely modern setting, enlivening the play brilliantly.

This production doesn’t even hold a candle to it. Particularly disappointing.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 2 August 2014 in British Theatre, Theatre

 

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