Review: The Importance of Being…Earnest? by Say It Again, Sorry? – Ask The Ushers
Ask The Ushers

Review: The Importance of Being…Earnest? by Say It Again, Sorry?


Star Rating: ★★★★★

Running at Brighton Fringe later this month, Say It Again, Sorry?‘s The Importance of Being…Earnest? is a madcap, interactive adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic. Much like Mischief Comedy‘s The Play That Goes Wrong, Say It Again, Sorry?‘s interpretation is framed within a production that goes horribly, horribly wrong, a very British feeling farce. As one thing after another goes amiss, the fourth wall is broken as characters: the show’s director – Simon slough, stage manager – Josh, the actors and even audience members, must do all they can to keep the play going and reach the final bow, a whirlwind of role swaps, improvisation and utterly ridiculous witticisms ensue, the comedic effect of which is immensely enjoyable and ludicrous. A genuine slapstick embodiment of ‘the show must go on’, a very ripe sentiment in these times where the theatrical landscape is fighting to heal and theatres themselves are also struggling to reopen and actually put shows on.

Though the production is described as interactive, this isn’t, as may be suspected a cringey methodology to get the audience involved, it’s quite the opposite, you shouldn’t let this terminology put you off. Audience members are invited (with their consent), to fill principle roles where needed as an increasing number of actors become indisposed, engendering an entirely unique, unpredictable and hilarious form of audience participation and whirlwind theatrical adventure, as the various comedic hurdles such as props going awry and the sound disappearing, make you wonder whether the actors will ever reach the end of the script, or if the performance will implode entirely. The delivery of which has been eloquently fine tuned in the production’s original conception and development, to be driven towards certain outcomes, whilst remaining comedically clever and hilariously ephemeral thanks to the use of unpredictable audience members and well-timed moments by the actors themselves, perfectly balancing the nonsensical with intelligible wit and comedy. For a piece that relies heavily on audience members picked at random, at times the number of audience members outweighing the cast members on stage, the form feels incredibly well thought out and designed to flow with ease. Whilst the humour remains genuine, not forced and is for the most part not repetitive in nature. (Though towards the end as most of the actors return one by one to take their parts back from audience members, the gag does begin to tire). So, if you are hoping for a true-to-the-text production of the Importance of Being Earnest, this isn’t for you, but if an entertainingly bonkers night out at the theatre where potentially anything could happen is your bag, this one is for you. As aforementioned it is very reminiscent of Mischief Comedy‘s work, so if you like that, or are a fan of the incalculable nature of Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare, you’ll love this!

The barmy nature of the piece is surprisingly in keeping with the thematics of Wilde’s original, as the central character Ernest or Jack, both is and isn’t Ernest/Earnest, Ernest being the persona he made up for himself when embarking on his pleasure seeking trips to London, and the name of his imaginary brother he often used as an excuse to leave on these trips for days at a time, pretending he must bail Ernest out of trouble, the kind of trouble he would probably get into whilst pretending to be Ernest. In this, Wilde was creating a moral paradox playing on the idea of sincerity, the whole concept being a lie made up by Jack, making him not Earnest in nature, whilst he was also the one masquerading under that persona, making him also still Ernest. Something that hilariously carries over into Say It Again, Sorry?‘s work, this production both being and not being The Importance of Being Earnest, yes the characters in the piece are putting on a production of the show, but they are also actors putting on a satire about a show that goes terribly wrong, making the piece intuitively, also a paradox like Wilde’s Ernest/Earnest. We, as audience members thus get to experience two satires at once, the satire of the original play about deception, identity and love, and the satire of actors and audience members hilariously stumbling through a show and switching roles on demand. Furthermore, with Ernest being the first character that needs to be replaced by an audience member, (initially it is suggested for the first scene as the actor is stuck in traffic, but ultimately for the entire performance), the poor person playing Ernest, both is and isn’t Ernest in the sense that they aren’t who was supposed to be playing the role and they end up improvising, being fed lines and even reading a script – provided by an onstage printer, but in doing this they are also playing the role of Ernest. Similarly the changing nature of who is playing the role of who, sits perfectly in a piece that is putting on a production where, as aforementioned, the central character has a double-life and changing persona himself, (Jack/Ernest). A particular clever conceptional intricacy. Whilst the framing and audience interactivity do much to not only engender the richness of the comedy, but also bring Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest crashing into the 21st Century, the adaptation being peppered with pop-culture references such as The Spice Girls, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing and Harry Potter, allegedly due to some dodgy script ‘misprints’, the former two being the subject matter of monologues supposedly from the Old Vic provided for some impromptu open auditions in the middle of the show. Whilst the interruptions of scenes in which Simon Slough the director and/or Josh the stage manager are shown to have to interject and problem solve, with actors having to be replaced because they are intoxicated, have to leave to go to an audition for a better job, or simply refuse to work with amateurs, similarly break the performative part of the piece up and bring it immediately to the here and now, to a room of people today humorously trying to put a piece of theatre on despite the malfunctions, that is to top it off supposedly being filmed and live streamed by NT Live.

Just because this is a slapstick farce, with moments of interactivity and improvisation, focussing on a group of actors and their director trying, in vain, to get through a show with as little hiccups as possible, it doesn’t mean the design is anything less than intelligent. In fact, it takes a lot of skill to authentically stage things actually going wrong, and the set and props (or lack of at times), combined with the abrupt changes in lighting and inventive costume design, (with stripped down versions being provided to audience members in a representative style as they adopt various roles), did much to perpetuate the comedy and strengthen the transition between moments of ‘acting’ and not, as did the dexterous direction by Simon Paris, who is a master of devising comedic vibrance that is authentic, complex and fresh. The high quality and polished look of the set and costuming actually made it even funnier when things did go wrong, providing an excellent contrast. Performance-wise, Say It Again, Sorry? are an immensely skilled, strong collective of comedians, with excellent timing and poise, able to deliver these multi-layered, larger than life characters with ease, pushing the boundaries of humour and wit. This can particularly be seen in their exquisite use of physical comedy, in which, for instance: actors are forcefully removed from stage, become missing armchairs, ‘do their blocking’ despite things or people supposedly not being where they are meant to be – a sword fight with only one sword ensuing, as well as becoming drunk and disorderly stumbling around stage and bursting into scenes despite already being replaced, and subtle or not so subtle faces of confusion and anger as things don’t quite go to plan, all and more, enacting as a vibrant moments of strong physical humour.

To conclude, Say It Again, Sorry?‘s The Importance of Being…Earnest? is highly recommended! It’ll have you deeply belly laughing throughout, the comedy is quite simply glorious and it’s just the tonic for the bleak times we are party to at the moment. Running at Brighton Fringe Friday 25th to Sunday 27th June in The McElderry, (The Warren, Victoria Gardens), click here to book now. Click to find out more about the show and company.

Written by Josh King, Directed by Simon Paris, Set design by Jack Lowerson and Trynity Silk, Costume design by Trynity Silk, Lighting design by Guido Garcia Lueches and Sound design by Ben Mann &
Luciano Verghini.

Cast (Brighton Fringe): Tom Cray, Susan Hoffman, Ben Mann, MJ Lee, Sergio Maggiolo, Rhys Tees, Louise Goodfield and Trynity Silk.