The Importance Of Being . . . Earnest?
- Gareth K Vile
- 12 August 2021
Mixing Oscar Wilde's perennial classic with Fringe audience participation makes for somewhat toothless fun
The familiar trope of a show going wrong is given a twist in The Importance of Being … Earnest? by its inclusion of audience members. As various actors fail to turn up, find a better job or succumb to arrogance or alcohol, the desperate director ushers volunteers onto his stage, only to find that their presence is never enough to rescue the collapsing drama. Sadly, this also isn't quite enough to invest new vitality into the conceit. The pretentious director, an egotistical diva and parodies of unfashionable acting techniques are stuck in shallow cliché, while the subversive wit that remains in Oscar Wilde's script is replaced by slapstick and broad humour.
The cast do work hard with the material, but throwing crowd participants into the mix actually prevents its chaos from getting far enough out of control. The concept appears lazy: Earnest is known well enough not to need a synopsis, which allows the mayhem to dominate, but little advantage is taken of Wilde's sly script.
There are moments of fun, mostly in the interactions between cast members, but this production lacks either bite or nuance. One fight scene is transformed into a bizarre solo and a crew member usurps the role of director, but this episodic series of incidents fails to add up to consistent hilarity. A weak idea that cannot capitalise on its potential, this Earnest struggles for laughs and relies too heavily on theatrical stereotypes, holding out hope that bringing on the audience will create a comedy of embarrassment.
The Importance of Being … Earnest?, Pleasance at EICC, until Sunday 15 August, 2.30pm; Saturday 14 August, 6.30pm, £15.