Described as a perfectly written comedy, Oscar Wilde’s famousworkfirst performed in 1895,explores the absurdities andtrivialitiesofVictorian eraHigh Society inLondon. Director Brandon Martignago’s latest productionthrough Burley Theatreattempts to demonstrateitscontemporaryrelevancewithmixed results.

The play centres on friends John (Micahel Whalley)and Algernon (Kurt Phelon) whohavebothfabricatedthe existence of different acquaintances in order to escape their relentless social obligations. John intends to marry Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (Paige Gardiner) and Algernon soon falls for John’s ward, Cecily (Katie McDonald). Gwendolen and Cecily are both in love with Earnest. But just who exactly is said Earnest?

In adapting such an iconic work, any production faces the difficult task of reinventingthe wheel.As with Shakespeare,the flow andlanguage of the script is the work’ssignature, making modernisation a tricky business.

In this case, the obvious tools of set and costume are used effectively. The music is also modern and is particularly effectualin Cecily’s introductoryscene. Unfortunately, as there are only three acts in the two-hour performance, there is minimal opportunity for making the necessary framingreferences, which are so vital when convincingly modernising period pieces. As such, some references feel forced(for example, referring to mobile phones as diaries).

Considering the rapid-fire dialogueand the factit wasopening night, there were relatively few scripterrors. Theactors’obvious awareness of the play’s iconic lines was overly apparent butmostfound their rhythmafter intermission. The exception wasPaige Gardiner, who’s portrayal of the polished and sophisticated Gwendolen disin’t miss a beat.

The crowd favourite, though, is definitely Andrew Benson as the opinionated and forceful Lady Bracknell. FollowingMelbourne Theatre Company’s recent productionstarring Geoffrey Rush, the trendof having a male inthis roleadds another level of amusement to this already witty satire.

This production of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest manages to remain faithful while at the same time attempting to reach new contextual territory.

3/5 stars

BY LEE HUTCHISON

The Importance of Being Earnest is showing at the Seymour Centre until Saturday August 3.

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