The Importance of Being Ernest

Way back on 16 October, I went to the opening night of Queensland Theatre Company’s latest production of The Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde. And earnest it was – serious in intention, purpose and effort.

The acting was superb. None of the actors can be faulted. Their performances hit the mark every time. Bryan Proberts playing John Worthing is the very model of a modern aristocratic prat. There has no been a role that I’ve seen that he has not excelled in. Likewise, the performances of Paul Bishop (Algy) and Francesca Savige (Cecily) are a joy to behold.

The problem with the production is not that it is trotting out the same old familiar stuff to please the audience. Nor does it lie in the fact that there is nothing here that we haven’t seen a thousand times before. I guess what annoyed me about the production is that after reading Robert Kemp’s (Designer) article in the program about how costume dramas fail to engage an audience what we saw was nothing but a regular period piece.

I think that in general Kemp is correct when he says that realistic settings distract the audience by allowing them to compare the knick-knacks on stage with those they have at home. He’s also probably correct that setting productions in earlier periods make the audience focus on the costumes rather than the performance. It’s surprising then that he delivers a design which is as English-drawing-room-drama as it is possible to get with actually being played in one.

And why, oh why, must the cast speak in falsetto Noel Coward accents?

I’m not sure whether the blame should be laid at Kemp’s door or that of the director and theatre enthusiast, Michael Gow.

Overall, this could have been the stellar performance of the Importance of Being Ernest which echoes through the centuries to come if only decisions made in the production design had not let it down so badly.

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