The Importance of Being Earnest

Sun 10th – Mon 25th August 2014

reviews

Catherine Edwards

at 10:02 on 14th Aug 2014

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The idea of a gender-swapping performance of The Importance of Being Earnest is intriguing, but has the danger of slipping into gimmick. Gone Rogue's production had brief moments of brilliance, but unfortunately, something seemed to be missing.

The experiments in modernisation and gender-swapping didn't add a huge amount to the story. Stutters and slip-ups from a few of the cast were well recovered, but reinforced the impression that sticking to a script was constraining rather than strengthening the show. Gone Rogue's adaptation was by no means uncomfortable to sit through and had its genuinely laugh-out-loud moments, but the wit of the original writing was lost in the new layers of adaptation.

A few excellent touches included the interpretation of Gwendolen (played by Robin Johnson) as an iPhone obsessed teen, with her 'diary entries' taking the form of Facebook selfies. Along with Johnson, Ian Wainwright as Lady Bracknell and Catriona Rawlins as Algernon made the most of the gender-swap by successfully exploiting the possibilities for physical theatre and wordplay.

Oddly, the show was strongest when it diverted from the script. The opening exposition and fourth-wall-breaking from Katya Henderson were very funny, but it's not a good sign when the scene changes are funnier than the actual show. The inclusion of brave audience member Noel as Miss Prism was an almost hilarious touch, with Henderson clearly at home in her role as compere, and it would in fact have been nice to see more of her in the play, to help coax more out of the actors. Sadly, Henderson's gentle mocking of the 'gratuitous' gender-swap device, and ironic remark that 'with a few more performances, these guys might crack it' struck uncomfortably close to home. For much of the play it felt like the same jokes were being dragged out.

Perhaps the cast's talents would have been better showcased in a sketch show, or if more time had been spent getting the most out of the adaptation. Gone Rogue seemed to be finding their feet, and I have no doubt that their potential and clear willingness to try out new ideas will see them strike comedy gold sooner or later. Unfortunately, The Importance of Being Earnest wasn't it.

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Ben Hickey

at 10:08 on 14th Aug 2014

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Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ revolves around the construction of identity and its inherent ridiculousness, so a production involving gender-swapping ought to make for an intriguing spectacle. However, while there is a lot to enjoy, this production lacks the professionalism and technique necessary to make it a really good show.

Those not familiar with the plot are thrown straight into the deep end: two women are playing men who are themselves discussing their respective hidden personas which they deploy when out ‘in the country’. Gender-swapping adds another layer of confusion and absurdity on top of Algernon and Jack’s duplicity. This has the potential to say something interesting about the flimsy nature of identity, but during this opening exchange, filled with lots of lolling around in chairs and dominant posing, you can’t escape the distracting notion that you are watching two women actors not quite capturing the essence of two male characters.

Things improve somewhat with the introduction of the haughty Lady Bracknell and the capricious Gwendolen Fairfax. Played by Ian Wainwright and Robin Johnson respectively, both characters manage to carry off their adopted gender more convincingly. While the representation of the males comes across as slightly flat and hesitant, particularly in the case of Catriona Rawlins, who stumbled over her lines on numerous occasions in her role as Algernon, the two male actors are able to inject their female personas with more of the quick-witted, venomous humour for which Wilde was famed.

The play’s most enjoyable moments are provided by Katya Henderson’s Lane and Sevan Keoshgerian’s Merriman. They shine in their interludes in between acts, during which they meta-theatrically expose the Ikea chairs and limp greenery that stands in for a luscious garden. The most intriguing moments of the play come when a (male) member of the audience is conscripted to play the role of Miss Prism. Guided by the mischievous Lane and Merriman, our uncertain volunteer is plied with lipstick and continually reminded to keep his legs closed in keeping with the stereotypical explanations of what a female character should look like on stage.

Using gender-swapping for this play is a good idea but its execution was unfortunately not as good as it could have been. There are some moments which help to illuminate the politics of gender and of identity more broadly, but these are few and far between. While it may be an interesting experiment, there are surely better ‘Earnest’ productions to see at the Fringe this year.

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