REVIEW: The Importance of Being Earnest raises the bar

The Importance of Being Earnest
Directed by Warren Bates
Photos by Sharron Betts
Reviewed by Taryn Utiger

The latest play to hit the stage in Taranaki has left earnest theatre goers thanking the entertainment gods for such an outstanding show of talent.

The Importance of Being Earnest is arguably Oscar Wilde’s finest play, and in the hands of director Warren Bates it has moments of being the personification of absolute perfection, to quote the playwright himself.

Bates, who is well known for directing big name musical theatre shows like the Australasian premiere of Sister Act, not to mention Phantom of The Opera and Les Misérables, has turned his hand to the smaller stage and he is an absolute breath of fresh air.

Bates has stepped onto that smaller stage with absolute pizzazz, bringing with him a talented team of actors and technicians who know their craft like the back of their hand.

The result is a triumph and one of the best local plays this reviewer has seen in many, many years. The Importance of Being Earnest has most certainly raised the bar, and one would hope similar local theatre groups take inspiration from this spectacular show.

There is no one thing that makes Earnest so outstanding. Rather it is the care and precise combination of a masterly concept, superb direction, a thoughtful set, clever storytelling conventions, beautiful costuming, and a talented team of actors – including some who are professionally trained.

The story follows two young bachelors, Algernon Moncrieff, played by Sonny Deacle and John Worthing, played by Martin Quicke.

The pair lead double lives to court the attention of the beautiful Gwendolen Fairfax, played by Loren Armstrong, and the equally charming Cecily Cardew, played by Michelle Rawlinson. 

Each of those four main actors are well trained and they are outstanding in their roles. They truly are an asset to the local theatre scene.

Deacle and Quicke are simply magnificent and they play off each other with skill. Their quick-witted verbal altercations are delightful, as is their muffin fight. Both of them nail their characterisation, have impeccable vocal work, and set a wonderful pace for the show.

Armstrong and Rawlinson also make a great pair, and their cat fight turned sisterhood is a joy to watch.

The duo really come to life in the highly entertaining tea and sugar lumps scene. They work together beautifully, and their elegant synchronised movements add poetry to the drama.

That scene features Laurie Neville’s wonderful and very shaky Merriman and it is one of the many highlights of the show. In fact, Neville becomes an audience favourite and by the end of the night he merely has to step on the stage to get applause.

Facial expressions and mannerisms are exceptionally well used in this play by all cast members and Selina Mackie’s scowl as Lady Bracknell is particularly memorable. Her convincing performance is joined by Sharren Read’s and Steve Hobson’s, and together the trio do a lovely job of supporting the main cast.

Any criticism for this show is merely nitpicking, but opening night nerves did mean a couple of great lines were lost to audience laughter, and one or two accents were not always consistent. As the cast adjust to their run of well deserved full houses these small wrinkles will be easily ironed out.

Despite those wrinkles, Earnest really is outstanding on all fronts and a lot of what makes it so is the attention to detail.

That detail can be seen in wardrobe designer Gael Carswell’s parade of intricate costumes.

From the handmade Victorian bustles and lavish hats, to the checked suits and the suave tails, the costume rack for Earnest is a thing of beauty.

The light peach colours in those costumes bring out the sweet naiveness of Cecily, while brash Lady Bracknell wears deep red velvet and striking navy blues. Algernon’s suits are playful and relaxed in comparison to Jack’s – whose are structured and traditional. Like everything in this show, the details are important and well thought out.

That level of detail can be seen on the set, and the decision to stage this satirical story of Victorian high society on a simple and stylised stage is a stroke of genius. It allows everything so grand and outrageous to be seen in such perfect contrast to its surroundings.

However, that simple and stylised set is by no means dull. In fact, its black and white storybook qualities and the way the pages are turned are not only highly effective and extremely clever, but they’re an incredibly enjoyable part of the show too.

There are also some very visually pleasing elements in Earnest, including carefully crafted synchronised movement, choral work, striking tableaus and symmetrical staging.

The Importance of Being Earnest really is a must-see show and the director, the cast and the crew should be immensely proud of what they have achieved.

Audience members used words like impressive, outstanding and wonderful on their way out of the theatre on opening night and that in itself is a true testament to this carefully crafted show.

May Taranaki be lucky enough to have many, many more productions like this. We earnestly wait their arrival.

  • 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.