Earnestly awaiting The Importance of Being Earnest

A talented team of Taranaki thespians is wilde about The Importance of Being Earnest.

The classic Oscar Wilde play will open at Cue Theatre later this month and the comic masterpiece is proving so popular with punters the season is already 90 per cent sold out.

Led by one of the region’s foremost directors, Warren Bates, the Earnest cast is made up of some of Taranaki’s most well known stage actors, as well as two actors who have toured professionally around New Zealand and now call this region home.

Warren describes the exquisitely scandalous play as being as entertaining as it is witty, and as witty as it is sharp. 

“It has been said that this play is the closest to verbal opera that has been written,” he says.

“Interestingly, every character of the play is a different element of Oscar Wilde’s own personality and the dialogue is, as Oscar Wilde actually spoke. It uses wit, exaggerated puns and wordplay to create humour.”

The Importance of Being Earnest opens at Cue Theatre on Thursday July 25 and runs until August 3.

Helping to bring this famous story to life is Martin Quicke, who plays the protagonist of the story, Jack.

The 36-year-old says he discovered the importance (and hilarity) of theatre as a youngster, when he got to pour custard all over the head of his Scout leader during a performance. And, he points out, it was not just once, it was every night of the season and it was glorious.

He caught the acting bug young and went on to study drama under Taranaki’s well known theatrical stalwart Dorne Arthur, before heading off to Victoria University for a Bachelor’s degree in theatre.

Since graduating he has toured New Zealand with Capital E, and played a variety of starring roles, including Monsignor O’Hara in Sister Act. His list of theatre credits is impressive and even includes a devised and site-specific piece called Adrift, performed on a beach in Wellington.

At the start of this year he and his partner Hannah Dodd became first time parents to their son Ira, and Martin planned on taking the year off from treading the boards.

Martin with his darling little boy, Ira. Just look at that little face.
Photo: Hannah Dodd

However, when he heard The Importance of Being Earnest was being staged by Warren, he was torn.

“It’s one of those classic and eternal plays that every actor has on their bucket list. It’s Oscar Wilde, so you know that it’s going to be beautifully written and witty and sharp,” Martin says.

“And Hannah was incredibly supportive and encouraging, so I’m very, very lucky. I could not have done this without her and her support.”

Cute little Ira is now reaching six months old just as his daddy is gearing up for opening night of Earnest.

“What I love about this play is it’s sending-up that proper Victorian way of life, and it’s just pocking fun at the seriousness of it all,” Martin says.

“And it is fun, taking the mickey out of people who take themselves so seriously. It’s also nice to have an opportunity to do just straight acting, instead of musical theatre for a bit. I’ve done musical theatre for so long.”

Martin’s favourite kind of theatre is theatre that challenges society and allows it to reflect on itself, and theatre that acts as a mirror so people can learn, and society can benefit from that.

A play he likes in particular and one he has his eye on for his directorial debut is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee. It’s a play that was first staged in 1962 and it examines the harsh complexities of marriage.

Martin’s all time favourite play is Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Photo: Hannah Dodd

Until then he’s enjoying working on a classic like The Importance of Being Earnest, and under what he says is superb direction from Warren.

“And the costumes. They are stunning. They’re beautiful and most have been handmade for this show.”

Warren echoes Martin’s thoughts on the costumes and says it has been incredibly enjoyable to work with a talented group of theatre-minded people, both on the stage and back stage.

“The costumes have been designed, and created by Gael Carswell and her team and almost none are off-the-rack.

“We have a group of people who are willing to do whatever has to be done. From finding and modifying props, painting sets, or making coffee.

“There is a genuine sense of community theatre in the true sense of the word.”

The near-sold out audiences are sure to enjoy this play, the high farce, the witty dialogue and masterly use of satire.

In fact, Warren explains The Importance of Being Earnest uses satire to examine snobbery, classism, elitism, the fake imagery of grandiosity, deception, marriage and the reasons to get married. 

“The story itself is amusing, as it deals with deception and high society of the 1800s but in fact, the audience can expect to find so many hidden messages within the play, which somewhat relate and could be seen to be taking place today.” 

  • The Importance of Being Earnest is on at Cue Theatre in Inglewood from July 25 to August 3. Tickets can be booked online via the Cue Theatre website.

Words by Taryn Utiger