The Importance of Being Earnest

The Adelaide University Fringe Club. Flinders Street Baptist Church – 25 to 27 Feb

A well loved piece by Oscar Wilde regularly performed by amateur and professional theatre companies alike, The Importance of Being Earnest tells the story of friends Algernon and Jack. Jack is and orphan of unknown parentage who has invented a brother named Earnest so that he might regularly visit the city from his country home to court the love of Gwendolen. His ward, Cecily, is renowned of much beauty and when Algernon learns of this, he decides to impersonate Jack's fictitious brother whom he knows Cecily has never met, so that he might see of her beauty for himself. After much confusion both Gwendolen and Cecily learn off Jack and Algernon's deceit and of the non-existence of the man they both presume to love.

The Adelaide University fringe club has decided to tackle this famous work as part of the 2011 Adelaide Fringe season. Director James Moffatt writes in his production notes that he has staged a new interpretation of the work in which he has tried to update the characters to be more familiar to modern audiences while remaining as true as possible to the Victorian setting. In the first act, however, this update appears non-existent. It is not until the second act that one begins to notice the ‘updates’ which can only be described as a self-indulgent. Moffatt's direction appears more interested in sending up the characters and overstating the plot points than in the true subtleties which the script implies.

In the lead role of Jack Worthing, Omkar Nagesh works very hard, often however too hard - appearing stranded alone on stage with little to bounce off of. Joshua Kapitza plays Algernon as an incredibly boisterous and disrespectful suitor. His characterization seems often self-indulgent and neglects the ensemble, upstaging fellow actors in the pursuit of the audience’s attention. Amy Campbell plays Lady Bracknell, a character well beyond her own years.  Using makeup and voice Campbell attempts to appear older, however they characterisation is shrill and awkward and incredibly difficult to watch. Vanessa Redmond as Gwendolen gives a wonderfully measured performance, as one of the standouts in the cast, her Gwendolen is a pleasure to watch. Sophia Bubner steals the show with her interpretation of Cecily. Energetic, natural, and honest, her characterisation is spot on. In the smaller rolls of Miss Prism and Dr. Chasuble, Ali Walsh and Matthew Harnett are also too young. Makeup techniques designed for large stages with big auditoriums have been employed in an attempt to age these actors, but in this intimate venue with very flat lighting the actors merely looked dirty. Jeff Doors has the walk-on roles of Merryman and Lane, servants to both the Worthing’s and the Moncrief’s and does a nice job.

The venue, however, takes the cake as the least enjoyable part of the evening. Fan cooled with no insulation, poor access to facilities and no bar, dehydration quickly set in, with many members of the audience heading for the nearest pub as soon as interval came to buy a bottle of water.

At just over 2 hours and 20 minutes this production was hard work for the audience, disappointing when one wants to just sit back and enjoy.

Paul Rodda