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Sydney Theatre Company's The Importance of Being Earnest.

In the enchanting realm of literature, where the confines of time and place blur into insignificance, there are treasures that transcend generations and continents, resonating harmoniously with readers. Among these radiant gems gleams Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest," a vivacious comedy of manners that pirouettes gracefully on the precipice between the absurd and astute social commentary. This comedic masterpiece, which first graced the stage in 1895, continues to captivate modern audiences with its nimble wit, linguistic prowess, and audacious satire of societal norms.


Oscar Wilde, celebrated as one of history's preeminent playwrights, possessed an uncanny ability to infuse his prose with a melodic cadence and intellectual finesse.


Wilde's upbringing played a pivotal role in nurturing his linguistic finesse. His parents, particularly his mother, Jane, who penned her works under the nom de plume Speranza, cultivated his deep reverence for language and the art of embellishing reality with vivid imagination.


Wilde's humour often finds its roots in a fear of societal missteps, a sentiment resonating with the modern concept of social media "cancellation." He thrived in a society that demanded an impeccable veneer of decorum, yet he would ultimately face his own downfall in a sensational libel case against the Marquess of Queensbury, culminating in his exile from high society.


In the rich tapestry of ideologies exported to the colonies through imperialism—such as class, caste, capitalism, and a fervent infatuation with Victorian aristocracy—the most remarkable facet may be the freedom to lampoon these very ideologies.


Wilde regarded his final comedy as a response to an American producer's plea for a play devoid of serious undertones. "The Importance of Being Earnest," subtitled "A Trivial Comedy for Serious People," premiered at London's St James's Theatre on Valentine's Day in 1895. The narrative revolves around the concept of "Bunburying," a term coined by Wilde to describe the intricate ruse allowing one to engage in indiscretions while seemingly upholding the loftiest standards of duty and responsibility.

In Sydney Theatre Company’s take on “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Algernon Moncrieff (embodied by Charles Wu) and Jack/John Worthing (brought to life by Brandon McClelland) prove to be virtuosos of this Bunbury art. They luxuriate in the comforts of Victorian affluence, adroitly evading undesirable social commitments through the ingenious use of their second selves.


In director Sarah Giles' imaginative realm for "Earnest," opulence reigns supreme and whimsy dances through the air.. She consistently surprises her audience, adorning the orchestration of the narrative with inventive costumes, unexpected compositions courtesy of sound designer Stefan Gregory, detailed large-scale set designs, and opulent props. All these elements are combined to a mosaic that not merely playfully underscore the text's inherent mockery of privileged classes but results in a coherent whole, the sum of which is much bigger than the mere sum of individual components would suggest.


Charles Davis' set design plays a pivotal role in Giles’ interpretation, shifting angles and perspectives, transitioning seamlessly from introspective interiors to sweeping vistas and juxtaposing the life of the upper classes with the dreary realms of the serfs.


The detailed costumes, artfully curated by Renée Mulder, amplify the discomforted nuances of high-class living, which much to the amusement of the audience amplifies the social commentary.


Helen Thomson channels captivating thematic currents by keenly discerning the symphonic quality within Wilde's words, thereby effortlessly unlocking their timeless brilliance and sagacity.


The star of the performance, however, is one Charles Wu, who in his portrayal of Algernon, charmingly delivers a masterful and inspired performance, which is only further fuelled by Brandon McClelland’s, whose depiction of the dishevelled Jack Worthing is equally captivating, resulting in a nuanced yet energetic back and forth that carries the performance throughout.


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Words by AW.

Photo courtesy of Sydney Theatre Company.


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