Left – David Woods and Jon Haynes. Cover – Jon Haynes and David Woods. Photos – Pia Johnson
The Malthouse Theatre has opened their 2020 program with a classic, The Importance of Being Earnest, perhaps Oscar Wilde’s most beloved play. Presented by Ridiculusmus, two actors David Woods and Jon Haynes portray all roles within the satirical comedy and race through Wilde’s material in their take on the classic.
Originally presented in 2006 at The Malthouse Theatre, the duo have returned with their production for the 2020 season and have spectacularly missed the mark. What begins as an absurd gag of Woods changing from straight laced butler to scoundrel Ernest becomes tiresome quickly. When Haynes transforms into Gwendolen and Woods into Lady Bracknell, the lengthy costume changes become tedious as the joke wears thin.
From there, it only gets worse, as the actors converse with wigs, pieces of dresses and puppets to keep the narrative driving forward. I tried to focus on the brilliance of Wilde’s writing, clear and crisply articulated by the performers but was stunned at the sheer lack of societal understanding of the entire production.
What then transcends is a multitude of dick jokes catering to the lowest common denominator and a downright creepy portrayal of The Reverend by Woods masturbating into the bushes. There are some interesting style choices and the production team have created an entirely odd world with the carpeted stage and busy set. There is an inventive moment when Haynes portrays the servant Merriman through a table but I’m afraid that’s where the entertainment ends.
Yes, it’s a farcical production full of slapstick humour, however the absolute obliviousness to the current social climate was impossible to bear. There’s no doubting that Woods and Haynes are incredibly gifted actors capable of playing all these roles. It doesn’t mean they should. Lady Bracknell is an icon of the theatre, one of few great roles for women and in this production, she felt soiled, a parody of a great character.
The production was a pantomime, ridiculous and insensitive to a modern audience. Wilde’s work remains as witty as ever, but the laboured costume changes, devotion to absurdity and cheap drag performances make it very uncomfortable viewing and a disappointing opening to the Malthouse Theatre’s season.
Malthouse Theatre presents the Ridiculusmus production of
The Importance of Being Earnest
by Oscar Wilde | adapted by Jon Haynes, Jude Kelly & David Woods
Original Direction Jude Kelly
Venue: Malthouse Theatre | 113 Sturt Street Southbank, VIC
Dates: 14 February – 8 March 2020
Tickets: $35 – $79