Roslyn Packer Theatre, September 9
A good production of The Importance of Being Earnest confirms that civilisation still exists. The barbarians may have vandalised art in favour of what they call popular culture, but if Oscar Wilde can still adorn our stages, the war’s not lost, and a difference survives between wit and the inanity that mostly passes for comedy. As a consequence, we can sit there with tears in our eyes, not just because the play is so funny, but because the cleverness is so beautiful.
This Sydney Theatre Company production, directed by Sarah Giles, is also beautiful to behold (which Oscar would have liked), thanks to the lavishness of Renee Mulder’s costumes and Charles Davis’s set, skilfully lit by Alexander Berlage. More than good, the production contains two performances fully justifying a trek to the public transport backwater of Hickson Road.
Firstly, Helen Thompson is a younger, more pert and more vital Lady Bracknell than most. Her voice modulation should be compulsory listening for all young actors as she plunges and soars through the octaves of Wilde’s wit, culminating in the immortal injunction to Gwendolen, “Come, dear – we have already missed five, if not six, trains. To miss any more might expose us to comment on the platform.”
The other is Megan Wilding, playing the daffy Gwendolen, who exhibits supreme instincts for tone, timing and facial expression. When these two are absent, the show loses just a little sparkle, like champagne that’s been open for an hour or two.
Their excellence is replicated by the too-seldom-seen Sean O’Shea as Algy’s butler, Lane, and Giles has opted to emphasise the long-suffering side of the lives of the servants, with the set allowing us to see into their mimed world while the main action unfolds. Yes, Wilde did write The Soul of Man Under Socialism, but his fabulous play amply punctures the vacuous pretensions of the “ruling class” without the need for further elaboration.
The other leads – Charles Wu’s Algy, Brandon McClelland’s Jack, Melissa Kahraman’s Cecily, Lucia Mastrantone’s Prism and Bruce Spence’s Chasuble – also acquit themselves well. There are, however, finely shifting lines between maintaining comedic pace and talking over the audience’s laughter, and they will feel these out as the season unfolds. They could also pull back slightly, and let Oscar do more of the work. He won’t let them down.
Until October 14.