The Newcastle University Theatre Society’s students have banded together to produce a new version of Oscar Wilde’s classic, filmed against the backdrop of an empty Sunderland Empire, directed by Adam Kinneen. Proceeds from the stream will go to the charity Acting for Others.
Now, Earnest is such a key text that an adaptation must have a unique selling point to stand out. Previous productions I have enjoyed have boasted such twists as a man playing Lady Bracknell, a middle-aged amateur group setting, ‘played by immigrants’, or relocated to the North of England.
Streaming until 16 July, this adaptation adds Wilde himself as an additional cast member at key points, and moves the familiar play along at breakneck place. Both decisions are fairly successful: Wilde’s inclusion allows some of his own words outside of the play to be included; the speed of delivery allows for humour but sometimes loses the meaning of lines.
Bugsy Bannon (Gwendolen) and Martha Watson (Cecily) are excellent, particularly in their afternoon tea scene, while Jay Robinson’s ‘dedicated Bunburyist Algy settles into a path of quiet mischief, with Max Brennan’s Jack a mix of seething irritation, quiet respectiability, and crushing disappointment.
Although good, Louisa Rimmer’s Lady Bracknell does not have the ringing ‘handbag’ of an Evans or Suchet, and there is even an added interruption before the line which is almost unforgivable. Leave the telegram to another time! However, the character is redeemed by the end, lamenting about strange coincidences in the best families.
Bookending this production are those additional scenes in which Wilde talks to an emotional Robbie Ross, the man who ensured that even once the playwright was disgraced and improisoned, his legacy lived on. Leo MacNeill’s Wilde is a shadow of the lively society player; Conor O’Hara’s Ross compliments him with a fine and quiet performance.
Filling out the cast are Finlay Worrallo and Sean Kavanagh as butlers Lane and Merriman (so often played by the same actor), Ellie Denton as an unusually serious Prism, and Harry Higgins as a smug Dr Chasuble.
This is a fairly faithful production that has some moments that flesh out the feelings of the central quartet, especially in some rather modern facial reactions , while retaining the classic lines about cucumber sandwiches, muffins, and bread and butter – and, of course, the Brighton Line!
You can watch the production on stream.theatre until 16 July, with tickets (£12) available here.
LouReviews received complimentary acess to review The Importance of Being Earnest.