The Importance of Being…Earnest?
Many of my generation will best know the classic story of John ‘Jack’ Worthing and Algernon ‘Algy’ Moncrieff, two bachelors who create alter egos named Ernest to escape their tiresome lives, through the 2002 movie adaptation starring Colin Firth, Dame Judy Dench, and Rupert Everett amongst other big names. The men attempting to win the hearts of two women who, conveniently, claim to only love men called Ernest. The pair struggle to keep up with their own stories and become tangled in a tale of deception, disguise, and misadventure. The elaborate plot ridicules Victorian sensibilities with some of the best loved, and indeed eccentric, characters to be found on the modern stage. First performed in 1895 and published in 1899 it is a satire of Victorian social hypocrisy and considered Wilde’s greatest dramatic achievement.
So then, it is a rather genius idea to take this classic tale turn it into a production where audience members take on the main roles- taking the theme of identity (or rather mistaken identity!) to the next level!
The Importance of Being…Earnest? begins in a Victorian household, complete with your typical English butler. The set is constant throughout aside from the odd addition to imply a change of location. It is simple but effective- particularly the window which, on occasion, doubles as a metaphorical window, into the lives of the actors. This window allows us as the audience to take a peek ‘backstage’ as our characters have heated discussions, enjoy an off-stage smoke, or argue about what’s going to happen next unless the actor playing Ernest decides to turn up!
The play starts as any production of The Importance of Being Earnest might start, but it’s clear that this is the calm before the storm as we experience a long, awkward pause as Algernon and Lane introduce Mr Ernest Worthing. This continues with titters from the audience as stage manager Josh and director Simon break the fourth wall in a panic and ask if there’s a member of the audience who could step into his shoes (literally!) Thus, ensues improvised and organised chaos as members of the audience are plucked out to play various roles- reading from scripts, being shoved around the stage by the pros, shouting out lines from signs held up by other audience members and having lines whispered aside. There are many clever japes including actors pretending to don clothing they’re already wearing due to having to start the play again, solo sword fighting or conversations with the air as the audience member has no idea where they’re meant to be standing and some fantastic, over the top physical theatre!
The casting is perfect but special mention must go to Guido Garcia Lueches as Algernon and Rhys Tees as Lane who are the perfect comedy partnership on stage. They set the scene and really carry the piece throughout. Other noteworthy performances include Lucy Trodd as Lady Bracknell whose take on how to be an ‘ac-TOR’ provides a hilarious comedy skit when she attempts to teach the audience member playing Ernest how to, well, play Ernest! Also, Trynity Silk as Gwendolen is a triumph, particularly as the play unravels and she gets more and more merry- having had one too many glasses of the real wine rather than the prop wine!
My only qualm throughout was that it appeared the audience members taking on the two lead roles were somewhat prepared and/or had been planted. For me, this took away some of the comedy magic that can be provided in using audience members as part of a performance. However, I have since learnt that Say it Again, Sorry? have an open-door policy during rehearsals, so it is possible certain audience members may have already had a glimpse into what would be happening on stage that evening.
Say it Again, Sorry? began back in 2018 when Artistic Director Simon Paris set up The Lab Workshops developing his own craft and supporting actors with their acting technique. The team decided that their mission would be to connect people to their inner artist. The Importance of Being…Earnest emerged in 2019 and previewed at The Pleasance Theatre in Islington and has since grown and developed and become a great success- selling out at EdFringe in 2021 and taking on a UK tour in 2023/24.
The Importance of Being…Earnest? continues its tour at the Belgrade Theatre, Coventry from November 2nd-4th and ends at the Tivoli Theatre, Aberdeen on July 5th, 2024. To book your tickets head to the website-
The Company have requested the note below, which we are happy to facilitate
“The company would like it to be known that there are no plants or prepared audience members that are used during this show, the smoothness of their audience interaction is a testament to their craft and honing.”
Guido Garcia Lueches- Algernon
Trynity Silk- Gwendolen
Rhys Tees- Lane
Ben Mann- Josh
Josh Haberfield/Tom Bulpett – Simon Slough
Amy Cook Hodgson/Lucy Trodd – Lady Bracknell
Brendan Barclay- George
Simon Paris- Director
Josh King- Writer