Left – Scott Sheridan and Adriane Daff. Cover – Jenny Davis and Scott Sheridan. Photos – Gary Marsh
Black Swan State Theatre Company has whipped up a delicious confection for Perth with its current season of the perennial Oscar Wilde favorite, The Importance of Being Earnest. Replete with Wilde’s delightfully mordant tidbits, amongst a delectable mix of performers, and topped off with sweet direction by Kate Cherry, this production is no mere trifle.
Setting the action in a polished and sparkling display case, set designer Alicia Clements has done away with the traditional 3-walled drawing room set and given us a slick and luxurious black box. It is lit by footlights around the perimeter and dressed with Victorian furniture and finery, including a stuffed peacock, who seems to be stuck exiting stage left in the opening scene. The floor simulates highly polished black marble, which reflects the set and actors like a dark mirror. Later scenes bring us into a gorgeous over-height hedgerow rose garden with a swing, and finally, we end up in a crisp, white parlor lit by an assortment of gorgeous chandeliers.
No expense was spared with the sumptuous costumes. Lynn Ferguson has created a beautiful period wardrobe for this pampered cast, and every detail has been carefully tended to, from the trim on Lady Bracknell’s red “Queen of Hearts” dress, to the ladies’ matching purses, gloves and hats, to the lining of Algernon’s country jacket. Lady Bracknell and Gwendolyn look particularly striking in bold colors and patterns, and slightly exaggerated, stiff silhouettes.
This ensemble of actors is very well-suited to interpret Wilde. Stuart Halusz (John Worthing) and Scott Sheridan (Algernon Moncrieff) are particularly adept at the dialogue, which tumbles and bubbles from them as if it were second nature. Their chemistry is full of fun and spark, and they play off each other with ease and familiarity. Real-life mother and daughter Jenny Davis (Lady Bracknell) and Rebecca Davis (Gwendolyn Fairfax) lend themselves well to the simultaneously rigid and frivolous Victorian milieu. Adriane Daff gave us a most charming and sweet Cecily Cardew. Her girlish voice and figure are tailor-made for this role, and her sympathetic and natural approach to the character was a breath of fresh rose-garden air.
Given that this is such a well-known and frequently-produced play, Kate Cherry and Black Swan have done themselves proud by infusing the material with a novel and modern visual approach, while still maintaining the Victorian feeling, and without trying to re-invent the play for our modern sensibilities. Indeed, we of the twenty-first century are not so far removed from the attitudes and mores of Wilde’s Victorian upper-class, as we are often inclined to choose style over substance. Cherry realizes this, and has made sure to give us room to indulge our cultural sweet-tooth without feeling guilty, for at the center of her vision seems to be an earnest love for this timeless classic.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde
Director Kate Cherry
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre | State Theatre Centre, 174 William St, Perth
Dates: 9 – 28 March, 2013
Tickets: $69.50 – $24.50