Few plays are as legendary as The Importance of Being Earnest. Oscar Wilde's most popular work has been revived and updated consistently since its debut in 1895. Having seen versions on film, TV and the stage, it is now time for it to appear on our newest form of media consumption - virtual productions.
This production is very much in the same vein as another recent online Oscar Wilde adaptation, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Taking the overarching theme of the iconic works but reworking the body extensively to make it even more relevant to todays society can be extremely divisive, but fortune favours the bold - and that last title proved just what could be achieved when it is done right.
Helmed by the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield ans The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster, this production of The Importance of Being Earnest has been written by Yasmeen Khan to create a very Northern version of this iconic play. Cobbles and stone walls are all prominent here in a production which is very much Oscar Wilde meets Coronation Street.
The title role of Earnest is played by Gurjeet Singh who has fantastic on screen chemistry with Tom Dixon as Algy. Some star names get extended cameos with RuPaul's Drag Race star Divina De Campo having a standout turn as a fictionalised version of herself and sitcom legend Harriet Thorpe being as fabulous as ever as Algy's agent Alison. Hugh Dennis makes an appearance as Tony and Mina Anwar, who also directs the piece, is a remarkable mix of protective mum and quiz show host in a memorable and surreal sequence.
Yasmeen Khan really should be commended for the way she has moulded such a famous piece of work in to something completely different. Anybody creating any kind of theatre during this drought and giving work to deserving talents has my utmost respect. With a relatively diverse cast, she has created a love letter to the Arts and the North.
There is no denying the talent of the cast and all of the creatives responsible for this production. However, where The Picture of Dorian Gray was a runaway success with its updating of an Oscar Wilde classic, this doesn't quite match those dizzying heights. While laugh out loud funny at times, some of the humour falls flat leaving quite an uneven piece. While the classic elements of the original are present (Of course there's a handbag moment), it deviates from the original narrative a bit too much to remain completely cohesive. The result of this is a production that all too often heads on the right path but sometimes completely misses the mark.
This production of The Importance of Being Earnest is a lot of fun. If you want some pure escapism and to watch some incredible performers do what they do best, you will have the time of your life. If you're more of an Oscar Wilde devotee, you may want to steer clear of this one. While it may be unfair to compare it to virtual productions that have gone before, the fact another Oscar Wilde play streamed recently, also co-produced by Lawrence Batley Theatre, means the bar has been set incredibly high for virtual productions. That being said, who doesn't love a play with multiple references to Nandos?
Still very much a good production in itself, The Importance or Being Earnest may well win over a new legion of fans with this new updated version. Its only downfall is how spoiled we have all been from the sheer level and one-upmanship of those virtual shows that have come before.
The Importance of Being Earnest is streaming until May 4th on importanceofbeingearnest.com