When it comes to the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s very easy to fall into a hole of not knowing what to expect as there is just so much to see. So many different ideas, new stories, new concepts, it’s all there to see on stages scattered across the city. So, with so much on offer, you’d be forgiven for thinking that something with a familiar title would be a familiar show, a does what it says on the tin kind of situation that you could walk into with at least a rough idea of what is to come, but sometimes that isn’t quite the case, and it starts with a question mark.
Always a farce, Oscar Wilde’s comedy ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ has always been a popular piece of work with its look into nobility’s search for entertainment and an escape from trivial work, but here theatre company ‘Say It Again, Sorry’ take the classic tale and push both it’s comedy elements and audience interaction to the absolute extreme with ‘The Importance of being… Earnest?’
Playing with the show inside a show concept, we see a theatre troupe’s attempt to stage Wilde’s much-loved story fall apart with cast members falling like flies, forcing director Simon (Josh Haberfield) to recruit willing volunteers from the audience to step in. With props going awry, a stage wine mix up and a stage manager who can’t get a word in, this production is a laugh a minute and an absolute treat.
I walked into the Pleasance Beyond only knowing the very basics of the story and having a clue that audience interaction would be included but this unexpected delight took me completely by surprise and become one of my favourite shows of the fringe. From the start you are grinning as pop hits are given a classical twist and Rhys Tees and Guido Garcia Lueches try to get the show started in the correct manner, only to be thrown off track when Earnest fails to show up, leading to cast members being pulled in to play the part, wired up with earpieces and the odd pages of script.
Guido Garcia Lueches' portrayal of Algernon Moncrieff is spectacular, not only in his dedication to stick to the original script no matter what is going on around him but also in his physical comedy abilities, commanding the stage with plenty of energy. Rhys Tees plays multiple parts throughout to hilarious effect, having to play two different characters in one scene and desperately trying to hold it together as audience members join in with the chaos. In a double act, you can’t help but laugh with even a fourth wall breaking glance to the audience from the pair enough to spark giggles.
Susan Hoffman’s Mrs Bracknell, try as she might to keep going according to the script, can’t help but be drawn into whatever the audience participants are doing, much to the delight of the audience whilst Trynity Silk’s Gwendolen goes through a lot both in the story and in the goes wrong performance as she tries to keep the volunteer Ernest in line. Louise Goodfield’s Cecily also plays a pivotal role in ensuring that even more volunteers are required, leading to an hilarious mid show open audition featuring some rather odd choices of scripts to use.
An audience favourite throughout the performance was Ben Mann’s stage manager Josh, constantly bossed around and forced to deal with all sorts of catastrophes such as misbehaving sets, accident prone cast members and a director who just won’t let him speak. Mann has the audience on his side from the start, with everyone willing him on to get his big moment as he fights his own nerves and panic.
With things going wrong throughout the show, it’s hard not to think of Mischief Theatre and their great success ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’, and as a superfan of Mischief, I can appreciate the slapstick anything could happen style of comedy that this production uses. It subtly pays homage to ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ whilst maintaining its own approach and its own unique style with the fact that every single performance can be completely different based on who volunteers to take part.
‘The Importance of being… Earnest?’ is pure escapism, blurring the lines between cast and audience and earning rapturous applause throughout. My cheeks hurt from smiling and the laughter was truly infectious. I walked into this production not knowing what to expect and walked out with the biggest smile on my face. Here’s hoping that this show tours the UK or earns a well-deserved West End run soon so that I can see it all again.