Review: All-male Oscar Wilde play a reminder that the truth is never pure and rarely simple

 The cast of The Importance of Being Earnest
Jane Hardy

REVIEW: The Importance Of Being Earnest at The MAC in Belfast

BRUISER Theatre Company must be pleased their all-male production of The Importance of Being Earnest, which opened on Tuesday night at The MAC, has already proved controversial. After all, as Oscar Wilde himself said, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.

It opened with some Wagner, a view of a louche, Wildean Algernon Moncrieff (Joseph Derrington) and a strangely undramatic pause before the glorious words. The play has of course been given the full Bruiser treatment. In other words, they’ve added in musical (or music hall) numbers via Matthew Reeve’s score, an energetic acting style, and the unexpected casting plus a chameleon chorus – now seven or eight Wildes, now a lot of Cecilys.

The star of the first half, among one or two ho-hum performances, was undoubtedly Lady Bracknell played by Ross Anderson-Doherty complete with five o’clock shadow. He articulated those snobbish put-downs and some of the best Wildean aphorisms with real Aunt Augusta aplomb.

Funnily enough, the fact that male actors took on all the roles of this least romantic comedy did not really alter the impact. The play was still, as in the original, about the importance of real identity and being true to yourself and how vital it is in society to be anything but earnest.

Yet in the second half, when Wilde uses farcical developments to corral his characters into neat couples, a scene with Cecily (superb Chris Robinson) and Algy maybe made another point. Director Lisa May says she wanted to reimagine the play as a love letter to same-sex marriage. The actors removed costumes to reveal matching male outfits and the obligatory carnation (Oscar Wilde's preferred button hole) was handed over.

Touching, yes, but from a different play. For although Shaw dubbed The Importance of Being Earnest “heartless”, it does have its own emotional centre. That’s mainly provided by mature lovebirds Canon Chasuble and the estimable Miss Prism, acted with verve and a northern accent by Richard Croxford who seemed to be channelling both Alison Steadman and Alan Bennett at the same time.

As Algernon has it when discussing affairs and excursions with Jack Worthing, the truth is never pure and rarely simple. Wilde goes on to say modern literature couldn’t exist if this weren’t the case but this production rather erred on the side of the second epithet.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access