Despite the thousands of hours of rehearsal that went into game two of State of Origin and the many years of stage management that went into the latest instalment of the Rudd-Gillard show, the hottest ticket in town on a recent Wednesday night was Fingal O’Flahertie Productions’ The Importance of Being Earnest. Playing to a sold out room at the Kings Cross Hotel’s Bordello Theatre, it proved there still is hope for humanity.

I can’t bring myself to admit that you can get better than Oscar Wilde, but this production manages to stay true to the script even as it adds to it. You can’t modernise a timeless play. And there’s no need to localise a play that is not only universal but also singles out Australia as both the place to send reprobates and the place reprobates would sooner die than go. The additions to the play are continuing or garnishing Wilde, rather than modernising or localising. And it works. The whistled tunes might be modern, but they’re timeless too. The wicked costumes are timeless and I think it was only a coincidence that some of them looked local to Kings Cross.

Lewis Scamozzi plays the dual role of Lane the butler and Merriman the manservant. Scamozzi plays Lane with a posture that combines a ballet dancer and a weightlifter; he could balance a book on his head and trays of tea and cucumber sandwiches on his shoulders. This is in brilliant contrast to his lederhosen-wearing Merriman, whose posture is a cross between the Hunchback of Notre Dame and Gollum. Scamozzi’s timing was perfect, always entering the scene at the most critical moment; like Bill Shorten on Wednesday, or Matt Bowen with his intercept in the 2005 State of Origin’s Game 1. Neither Shorten nor Bowen, nor Scamozzi, dominated the scene, but they are crucial to it.

Scamozzi’s dual roles and Collin Jennings’ cross-dressing as Miss Prism are risky things to do in a script that so heavily features disguises. But the quality of the acting certainly justifies the casting and directing. This is unsurprising when you consider the director is Miss Prism. I mean, Collin Jennings.

The wicked costumes looked great on Cecily (Anne Wilson) and Lady Gwendolen (Emma Galliono). And their on stage costume changes were wicked too. Forgive me, but it put me in mind of the joke about two women talking about their parish priest. One says, ‘doesn’t he dress well?’ The other rejoins, ‘Yes, and so quickly!’ Ahem. The wicked costumes looked wonderfully ridiculous on Algernon (Tai Scrivener) and Jack (David Woodland), although I guess it makes sense to keep warm in the nether regions. The wicked costumes were as effective as a caucus stitch-up.

Keith Bosler adds another dimension to the production as Rev. Chasuble. Bosler makes what is usually the least memorable personality equally memorable to the others. Bosler made me think that maybe Chasuble is actually the most cynical character in the play. Bosler and many other cast members have an impressive background in comedy. This is especially so with Lyn Pierse, famous for her stand-up classes. As Australia’s queen of improvisation, she proved herself the consummate professional: she can also stick to a script. She plays pathological Aunt Augusta in such an overblown manner that, anachronistically perhaps, it’s genuinely convincing.

Speaking of comedy, there’s no better benchmark than The Importance of Being Earnest. The most common technique used in the script is to recognise and acknowledge the cliche or custom, take it literally, go beyond it and twist it. Not everyone can escalate the conversation stretching it beyond the norm such that it teeters on the very brink of ridiculousness, yet never quite topples. In fact, hardly anyone can. It’s what makes Wilde Wilde.

It’s such a pity creators of comedy and drama, like the Labor Party, the NRL, and Oscar Wilde, seem so often beset by scandal and notoriety, or voluntarily attach themselves to it. Then again, would we pay as any real attention to any of them, if not for salaciousness and sin.The tabloid (and compact) media ought to hang around Fingal O’Flahertie Productions more. For where there’s great theatre, scandal seems to follow.

The details: The Importance Of Being Earnest played the Bordello Theatre, Kings Cross Hotel on June 12-29.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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