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Theatre Review: The Importance of Being Earnest - Bella Vista Farm, Sydney (Performances through Dec 30th)

Algernon and John sit on the couch in deep discussion. Photo: Marnya Rothe.

Sport for Jove’s The Importance of Being Earnest opens with perhaps one of the most perfectly choreographed scenes in theatre. Staged within an elaborate house and performed to "Le amour est un oiseux rebelle" from George Bizet’s opera Carmen, we see Algernon Moncrieff (Aaron Tsindos) after a long night of revelry, emerge and move about his house in a daze. His butler Lane (James Lugton) masterfully pre-empts his every move, catching falling glasses and cleaning up around him, perfectly synchronised to the classic tune. And so begins the Oscar Wilde tale of fantasy and farce in Victorian England.

Regarded by some when it was first written as entirely superficial, The Importance of Being Earnest makes a mockery of the institution of marriage and exposes the hypocrisies of Victorian society through the interactions of Algernon, John ‘Jack’ Worthing (Scott Sheridan), Gwendolen Fairfax (Claire Lovering), Cecily Cardew (Eloise Winestock) and Lady Bracknell (Deborah Kennedy). We have two women whose entire happiness in marriage hang on a particular name, two men whose happiness relies on their leading a double life and a mother whose preoccupation with money could be considered an Olympic sport. Perhaps a reflection of the double life the married, yet secretly homosexual, Wilde was living at the time, the play concludes with all secrets out in the open, the couples united, and Worthing’s real parentage is exposed – which makes he and Algernon brothers and subsequently means he is marrying his first cousin.

Wilde is intent on conveying serious matters such as marriage and morality, in an entirely trivial way, whereas matters which could be perceived as trivial, such a food and fashion, are presented as essential to the continuation of polite society. The result is an hilarious and fast paced comedy that will have you laughing from start to finish. Special mention needs to be made to the exceptional costume design by Anna Gardiner and the cleverly constructed sets, again the work of Gardiner and director Damien Ryan.

Standout performances from Aaron Tsindos as Algernon and Deborah Kennedy as Lady Bracknell, but it is perhaps James Lugton as butler Lane who steals the show. His perfectly timed entrances, ability to catch literally anything his employer throws at him, his calm demeanour and witty one-liners are comedic gold. In particular, the running bell-ringing gag – where Algernon has the uncanny ability to find a bell anywhere – inside a teapot, a pot plant – and when he rings it Lane magical appears, regardless of where they are – was a charming addition to the play.

A delight to watch, The Importance of Being Earnest encapsulates the farcical hypocrisy of societal standards and impresses upon its audience a wit and comedic presence so often sought after, but rarely achieved in theatrical adaptations.

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The Shakespeare in the Park Festival, which also features Shakespearealism and Love’s Labour’s Lost, enjoys performances through December 30th. For tickets and more details head here: http://www.sportforjove.com.au/theatre-festival/the-sydney-hills-shakesp...

Reviewer attended the performance on December 19th.