It’s hard to imagine how two men can play nine different characters, let alone in the last scene when all the major protagonists of varying age, gender and believability are on the stage at once. But Jon Haynes and David Woods under the wonderful appellation Ridiculusmus manage to pull it off, with indubitable talent, considerable panache, a fabulous comic sense, and the aid of some amazing costume changes. It must be seen to be believed, and the effort of getting to see it on an impossibly hot Adelaide night is richly rewarded.
Directed by award-winning Jude Kelly OBE, this production of TIOBE adds levels of silliness and improbability to the already paradoxically preposterous plot. In spite of the paucity of performers, it is immediately apparent from the Victorian clutter of the set (even to a brocade-covered fridge!) that this version will be true to Lady Bracknell’s assertion that “style, not sincerity is the vital thing”. This is more than borne out by the elaborate costumes (that could only be donned with the alacrity necessary for some very rapid changes by the application of volumes of Velcro) and by the extraordinary hats that almost demanded a cry of “Hat alert, stage right!”
Heralded by “The Flight of the Valkyrie”, David Woods sweeps in as Lady Bracknell in florid black ruffles, topped with the most amazing millinery, adorned by a complete chook of some description. In turn, a diminutive Jon Haynes as Gwendoline sports an anything but diminutive enormous yellow meringue. These actors can be quite convincing as this raft of different characters at times, yet remain themselves at the same time, giving a multi-layered acknowledgement to the insincerity and multiple standards of the social mores that Wilde was so astute in sending up.
These are intelligent actors (both have PhD’s from the University of Kent) and were equally at home being a stiff butler and a coquettish and very fey Cecily, or being a self important indolent and a straight-laced Miss Prism. Together (as Gwendoline and Cecily) they did veiled bitchiness beautifully.
This production may be provocative – at a number of levels, but it certainly raises the notion that theatre in the 21st century can be not only played, but played with. And they do it with style, and the audience went Wilde.
The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre, Grote St Adelaide
Dates/Times: 28 – 31 January, 8pm; 29 January, 11am
Cost: Adults $48, Concession $40, Students $30, Groups $40 (6 or more tickets)
Bookings: BASS on 131 246 or www.bass.net.au