Theatre Review: The Importance of Being Earnest is a feast for the eyes and a delight for the ears

  • Naomi Gall
  • September 15, 2023
  • Comments Off on Theatre Review: The Importance of Being Earnest is a feast for the eyes and a delight for the ears

The first thing you will notice about The Importance of Being Earnest at the Sydney Theatre Company is the stage. Impressive seems an inadequate description for such an elaborate set design. Created by Charles Davis, the audience is transported to another world, a world of excess, decadence and extremely high ceilings. With incredible attention to detail, the separation of the stage between ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’ effectively displays and comments on the class system, a message which is woven throughout the performance.

Charles Wu, Sean O’Shea, Gareth Davies, Emma O’Sullivan

The clever transitions between scenes, which see the characters themselves moving furniture around, ensure the spell Davis has cast over the crowd is never broken. These moments offer up some of the play’s most humorous situations, with the inclusion of modern songs played with a Victorian twist, a wonderful addition.

The play follows two friends, John Worthing (Brandon McClelland) and Algernon Moncrieff (Charles Wu), who are both leading double lives. Frivolous and fanciful, the men revel in their ability to deceive, treating the most serious topics with a studied triviality.

Brandon McClelland, Gareth Davies, Sean O’Shea, Charles Wu

Written by Oscar Wilde and directed by Sarah Giles, this adaptation is visually stunning. The elaborate costume design by Renee Mulder is inspired. The rich colours combined with the structured shapes make the characters’ wardrobe as much a part of their performance as the words being spoken.

As the story unfolds it soon becomes clear that Worthing is in love with Gwendolen Fairfax (Megan Wilding), Moncrieff’s cousin, despite the objection of her overbearing mother Lady Bracknell (Helen Thomson). The only problem is, she thinks his name is Earnest.

Helen Thomson, Lucia Mastrantone, Megan Wilding

Meanwhile, Moncrieff travels to the country to make the acquaintance of his friends ward, Cecily Cardew (Melissa Kahraman) and despite a very brief interaction, the two profess to be in love. The only problem is, she thinks his name is Earnest.

Both women declare that they always knew they would marry a man with the name Earnest. Indeed, they appear more in love with the name than the man who claims to have the name. Ultimately all is revealed with hilarious results.

While no fault can be found with what is truly an outstanding ensemble cast, particular attention needs to be paid to the performances of Wilding as Gwendolen and Kahraman as Cecily. Their comic timing and ability to seamlessly bounce off one another was perfection. Even when words were not spoken, the facial expressions adopted by both actors said so much and ensured they dominated every scene they appeared in.

Charles Wu, Gareth Davies, Melissa Kahraman

Perhaps the greatest triumph of The Importance of Being Earnest is its ability to transform truly flawed and superficial characters and make them likable. A potent reminder that we often focus and obsess over the least important things, through his play Wilde reminds us there’s more to life.

A thoroughly entertaining adaptation, Giles effortlessly portrays the wit and charm of Wilde’s original text while never losing sight of the class commentary and political undertones. The brilliant cast will have you laughing throughout in what I dare say is a faultless production.

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The Importance of Being Earnest will run until 14 October 2023.

For more information and to buy tickets head to the Sydney Theatre Company website.

Reviewer attended on 12 September 2023.

All photos: Daniel Boud