Article Title:Review: Earnest
Author or Credit:Jay Bennie
Published on:28th August 2014 - 12:07 pm
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Story ID:15641
Text:Stephen Butterworth's nightclub hostess is Lady Bracknell Earnest Written by Oscar Wilde Directed by Benjamin Henson Musical direction by Robin Kelly Starring Jordan Mooney, David Sutherland, Oscar Wilson, Eli Matthewson, Stephen Butterworth and Jordan Selwyn. Q Theatre Loft, Auckland 27 August - 6 September. Oscar Wilde was subversive. From within Victorian English high society he held many of its sacred cows up to ridicule and, remarkably, that society laughed along. As a gay man of Irish origins Wilde was used to having his feet in two different camps. Living straight(-ish) but being gay. Being the toast of English society but being rebelliously Irish at his core. Living one life but seeing it through the filter of his own personal reality. Taking nothing for granted, holding the givens of the time up to a kind of objective scrutiny. Out of that came his masterpiece, The Importance Of Being Earnest, which mercilessly skewers the shibboleths of Victorian culture and politics, yet does it in such a sly and delicious way that those whose beliefs were being attacked laughed through their own skewering. Such fun. In deconstructing and rebuilding the play the cast and crew of Earnest have stayed faithful to Wilde's own subversive classic by adding an overtly homosexual layer of subversion and pulling it off magnificently. ( I won't guide you through the plot... most folk know it and for those who don't there's a synopsis here.) Breathing new life into old lines - and keeping to Wilde's script almost verbatim - they romp knowingly and archly through this gentle farce. They flirt outrageously with each other and with the audience, all retaining their maleness even when playing female characters. Cucumbers and ready money take on a whole new innuendo-laden meaning. Lady Bracknell and the manservant Lane, or is it the actors literally losing the plot, almost surrender to mutual lust. Algernon is hyper and swishy with undertones of the late Rick Mayall at his most amoral. Earnest is the epitome of the 1950s man from IBM. The bitchfight between Gwendolen and Cecily gets farcically physical. And Miss Prism's primness is blended with a camp viciousness and caprice which are quite compelling. The setting is a swanky 1950s gay men's nightclub which subverts both the London flat and rural English settings. The cast break into songs which are sometimes 1950s classics, never Victorian and frequently neither. Time, space, sexuality and context are all mercilessly subverted and yet it all stays true to Wilde's original. Oscar would have loved it. The direction is sassy, energetic and irreverent but it is the performances that raise this reinvention towards brilliance, and several performances, or characterisations, in particular. From before the show gets going Stephen Butterworth's Lady Bracknell is clearly in charge, a club hostess and matriarch rolled into one. She who must be obeyed; a jaded semi-drag queen with sharp fangs and an even sharper tongue. This Bracknell is predatory and arrogant, yet just a touch tender and therefore scary as hell. Jordan Mooney's Algernon is flighty, superficial, self-absorbed and still the sort of likeable character to bring even the most dreary party to life. Jordan Selwyn reaches deep into Miss Prism to expose the character's self-assured arrogance and defensiveness which emerges in coarse cockney street queen form. So different from, and yet still totally true to, Wilde's originals. The other performances are good too, sometimes outstanding. A slight worry is the similarity of the Gwendolen and Cecily characterisations, and it might have added to the fun if Gwendolen's being a nascent version of her mother, Lady Bracknell, was more evident. The backing band is spot on and occasionally takes the mickey out of the actors or maybe the characters. The three-sided stage/dancefloor setting works really well and last night's audience, once they had got used to how this reinvention of Earnest worked, had a great time, laughing, cheering and whooping. Earnest is a great entertainment, bold, flashy, campy and quite delicious. - Jay Bennie Jay Bennie - 28th August 2014    
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