Directed by Damien Ryan
Sport for Jove
Presented in conjunction with Sydney Hills Shakespeare in the Park
Bella Vista Park Farm, Corner of Northwest Boulevard and Elizabeth Macarthur Drive, Bella Vista
Season: 18 – 30 December (Bella Vista) 10 – 24 January (Leura)
People of privilege have proven to be rather easy subjects of satire, evident in an extensive list of comedians and comedy shows that have done so with great success. However few have done so with such acute precision as Oscar Wilde in The Importance of Being Earnest, canvassing the likes of wealth and the accompanying superficiality, folly and obsession with appearances that seems to permeate the upper class - even in the pursuit of love. Sport for Jove’s production, directed by Damien Ryan, wiles the audience with its nimble hold on comedy in a range of forms in a thoroughly amusing spectacle for all.
Wilde’s play tells the story of two men who invent ulterior personae to get out of various social obligations. Their undoing comes when they assume their alternative identities when courting their love interests, who are both adamant that they will fall in love with a man named Earnest. Parallels have been drawn between the play and Wilde’s personal life, where on opening night of this play it was discovered that he was having an affair with another man – a scandalous crime in 1895. Wilde was unveiled from his ‘double life’ and forced to face punitive consequences.
It would be quite viable to go along to see this show as a part of the atmospheric outdoor season, have a deliciously pleasurable evening and return home satisfied after a comical night of live entertainment. And by all means, I encourage you to do so. However, Ryan and his cast are presenting a mine rich with social and political insights that Wilde has laden in his text, just waiting for audiences to explore. In this process, I believe, the true edification resides, only heightening your appreciation for the comedic art involved. We can derive vast amusement from the misplaced value bestowed on the trivialities of life, as the show treats serious matters with triviality and trivial matters with the utmost seriousness. Through the characters’ fixation on the fleeting and frivolous, the audience might be alerted to the guises that are used to protect and cover up the systemic social and political processes ingrained in our consciousness.
The entire cast give luminous performances, with each member attuned to the comic dexterity and deeper insight of Ryan’s vision. Aaron Tsindos shines as Algernon, vividly depicting upper class conceit with appropriate pomp. This is superbly contrasted with James Lugton’s wry interjections as Algernon’s Butler, Lane. Their relationship delights in the physical domestic routines that take place and their back-and-forth repartee. Scott Sheridan brings shrewd charm to his role as Jack Worthing (also known as Earnest in the city) and a timid eagerness in his renowned exchange with Lady Bracknell, the mother of his love. Deborah Kennedy claims this role with staunch resolve and cutting comic timing that is terrifying, and yet joyous for audiences to observe. Eloise Winestock and Claire Lovering play Cecily and Gwendolyn respectively, the love interests and new fiancés to Algernon and Jack. Both of these actors sink their teeth into the inherent comedy and superfluousness of their characters with great success. Lovering indulges especially in the physical comedy aspect of the role, inciting widespread giggles at the repeated jests at Gwendolyn’s poor eyesight and the tension that envelops her relationship with Jack (known to her as Earnest) thanks to her fierce Mother’s overbearing presence.
This show exposes the deep-seated duplicity implicit in the society of Wilde’s time and of the present day. It examines the suppression and consequent craving of sensuality unacceptable to societal standards. It takes that Shakespearean question of ‘What’s in a name?’, and subverts its meaning to highlight the fixation on appearance rather than substance. This show sheds light on many things, and yet in spite of – or perhaps because of – these deeper insights, I am quite sure you will have a ripper of a good time, lapping up the comedic finesse as it comes in droves.