The Importance Of Being Earnest

Nathan O'Keefe and Nancye Hayes in the State Theatre Company of South Australia's production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Pics Shane Reid
Nathan O’Keefe and Nancye Hayes in the State Theatre Company of South Australia’s production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Pics Shane Reid

Oscar Wilde is a comedic pioneer and genius, whose plays sport eloquence of tremendous proportions.

“How you can sit there, calmly eating muffins when we are in this horrible trouble, I can’t make out.”

“Well, I can’t eat muffins in an agitated manner. The butter would probably get on my cuffs. One should always eat muffins quite calmly. It is the only way to eat them.”

While his plays are many things, earnest is not one of them. Saturated in satire and scandalously silly, Wilde’s beloved comedy THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST has hit the Merrigong theatre this month to reanimate the classic play in a hilarious, true-to-form production. Critiquing the prudishness and prestige that festered within the class-driven society of Victorian England, the play makes light of the era’s repressive conventions through the conundrums and mishaps of two young bachelors who take to “Bunburying” to spice up their lives. 

The play begins with the revelation that Jack has established an imaginary brother, Ernest, as an excuse to regularly escape his country hometown in pursuit of the delicious Gwendolen, daughter of notorious society woman and straight-out prude, Lady Bracknell. When residing in the city Jack takes on the alias of his imaginary brother, with whom Gwendolen falls in love – an act that is coined by Jack’s dear friend Algernon, as “Bunburying”, having dabbled in similar deceit- with his “very ill friend Bunbury”- many times prior. Algernon soon takes on the role of the imaginary Ernest to visit his love interest, Cecily, in Jack’s hometown. The gentlemen’s “Bunbrying” induces a tangled mess, wherein the importance of being Ernest is imperative for the continuation of the pairs’ corresponding love lives. And from here, hilarity ensues.

Nathan O’Keefe undoubtedly steals the show, harnessing his exuberant youth and comical flair in the role of the mischievous Algernon Moncrieff, whilst award winning actress, Nancye Hayes, irreproachably embodies the repugnantly prudish Lady Bracknell. Headed by these stars the cast put on a superb rendition that really does the literary classic great justice.

A simple set design and minimal costuming (save for Lady Bracknell’s offensively bright dress), leaves plenty of room for the actors to actually act- relying on little other than Wilde’s script and their own theatrical finesse. If anything, The State Theatre Company of South Australia’s production of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST exemplifies the pertinent and widely accepted belief that Wilde’s transcendent comedy, even a century on, needs not be reinvented.

This two-hour performance is an absolute must see for anyone who loves classic theatre. However, as it stays true-to-form in both script and humour, I dare say it may not appeal to everyone. It is, of course, a trivial comedy for serious people!

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST is only playing a short season at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, 32 Burelli Street, Wollongong. The final performances are tonight at 8pm and tomorrow at 2pm and 8pm.