Thought you couldn't make an Oscar Wilde play any sillier? Get along to the Brisbane Powerhouse. Indeed, an entirely minimalist production maximises the laughs in an unashamedly ridiculous version of The Importance of Being Earnest.
Wilde's most enduring play has been re-staged and rehashed on stage and screen perhaps more often than any other work from the period. And rightly so - its take on social obligation, along with Wilde's celebrated parody of stiff British upper lips, still rings true on many levels.
But Earnest has never been performed quite like this: gorgeously staged, sumptuously costumed, faithfully retold, and all with just two actors on stage. Somehow it works when it really shouldn't, and where it doesn't only adds to the fun.
British comic troop Ridiculusmus, in town for two back-to-back productions (including their own piece Tough Time Nice Time opening February 17) was created in 1992 with three players. That became four, then five, back to three, and now just two of the founders: Jon Haynes and David Woods.
Its diminishing cast would, you would think, rule out a production of any Oscar Wilde play. Quite the opposite.
Instead, Haynes and Woods scurry backstage to change costumes, or hide behind props, or even strip down to their underwear in front of the audience where necessary to bring nine characters to life. It's a feat of theatrical athleticism, stage management and good old-fashioned slapstick.
The transitions are about as subtle as a sledgehammer, the drag-filled concept and silly asides entirely juvenile (fart jokes included), and all quite brilliant as a result.
What's more, most pleasingly, the repartee of Wilde - at its most absurd in this comedy of deliberate mistaken identity, as bachelors John and Algernon attempt to avoid unwanted obligations and win female hearts - remains intact.
The characters are never really betrayed for the sake of laughs, all delivered with the impeccable timing Wilde demands from two clearly seasoned comics.
The novelty of the two-hander never wears thin, only adds to the existing laughs. Ultimately it is Wilde, some imaginative staging and two very good performers who really shine.
The best kind of ridiculous.
Brisbane Powerhouse presents
The Importance of Being Earnest & Tough Time Nice Time
The Importance of Being Earnest
Dates: 11 - 15 February 2009
Times: 7.30pm Wed - Sat, 6pm Sunday + 2pm Saturday
Tough Time Nice Time
Dates: 17 - 22 March 2009
Times: 7.30pm Tues – Sat, 6pm Sunday
Venue: Powerhouse Theatre
Tickets: $39/$31 for each show
Bookings: 07 3358 8600 or brisbanepowerhouse.org