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The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Published on September 21st 2005.


A Trivial Comedy performed by Two Serious People

Wilde is funny, very funny. His wit is cherished. 'The Importance of Being Earnest' is his great masterpiece. Ridiculusmus in the persons of Jon Haynes and David Woods are also funny, sometimes very funny. They have garnered golden opinions. Their reputation goes before them. They are no serious competition to Oscar Wilde. Sad to say this performance is no 'marriage of minds'.

For the first time Haynes and Woods perform a pre-scripted play. Why they would choose this wonderful comedy of manners, which is a tour de force of wit and wordplay, is beyond me. Their forte is surely in the world of the deconstructed, shambolic performance. It is certainly not at its best in this company.

The performance falls badly between two competing elements, namely the Wilde explosion of wit and Ridiculusmus’s attempts to say something new about the play. It is a brave, worthy production in which the two principals take on all nine roles. Brave and worthy it might be, but it fails. Much of the humour of the original is lost and the obvious talents of Messrs Haynes and Woods do not and could never have filled this gap. I was underwhelmed.

All evening I kept being reminded of the Reduced Shakespeare Company and particularly their version of 'The Complete Works of William Shakespeare'. The major difference is that such Company do not attempt to perform Shakespeare’s plays but simply demonstrate them by costume or symbolic gesture. This allowed more iconoclasm and did not try to compete with the words or works of the playwright. Under the circumstances this was very sensible and left no dependence upon the words or verse of Shakespeare, which is not the case here.

There was nothing creative or innovative about this version of the play, its direction or any different view of the world.

The world of 'The Importance of Being Earnest' is one of social hierarchy, credibility, profile and manners. It is very funny. The outstanding wit of Wilde gives it the ranking of a masterpiece. Other than this performance being a tribute to one of their heroes, it is difficult to see why Ridiculusmus have chosen to revisit such a play in their very first production of a pre-scripted comedy.

This play is known to most playgoers. However many times one sees it, it still retains the power to delight by its wit and envy the skill of the playwright. Here I found the constant too-ing and fro-ing rarely made me laugh, added little to my enthusiasm and at best produced the occasional wry smile. The humour is that of Oscar Wilde not of Messrs Haynes and Woods.

The cross-dressing, the hand puppets and the use of modern musical introductions is perhaps an attempt to introduce a 21st century element. Neither the play nor Oscar Wilde are improved. The humour of the words becomes a secondary element to the efforts of Ridiculusmus to perform the play in a farcical way which for the most part is not funny.

On the whole Ridiculusmus were true to the text. This resulted in some long periods of silence as one of the duo was off stage changing. Though quite amusing initially, it becomes a little testing despite the attempts of the duo to add some humour by facial gestures. The play is far too good to need the addition of a 'Keystone Cops' action going on all around.

Jon Haynes and David Woods are quite beguiling. I was impressed with their acting ability. In works of their own creating the only criteria would then be a judgement of the humour contained in both the performance and the writing. I would prefer to judge them on their own abilities and on a more level playing field.

The evening left me unfulfilled.

Richard Burbage

The Quays Theatre, Lowry Arts Centre
Until Thursday 22nd September
Box Office Number 0870 787 5790
Book online at
www.thelowry.com

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