{.suits and buttonholes.}

by devourslowly

Sir Hebert Beerbohm Tree, the Victorian actor-manager, once hailed a taxi and got in.  When the driver asked “Where to, Guv?”  Sir Herbert looked up and answered “Do you really think I would give my address to the likes of you?”

Stephen Fry, QI

The Auckland Theatre Company is currently putting on The Importance of Being Earnest. After a long hiatus from the ATC and temporary defection to the Silo, imagine my utter delight when receiving the promotional booklet in the mail the other day.  I did spend most of my tween years fag-hagging after Oscar Wilde.  The most incredible thing is I did not dislike the film adaptation of Being Earnest at all. Judi Dench… *sigh*

S & I, after not seeing each other since the last on-site session, managed a couple of almost-last-minute-tickets for a wild Thursday night out (or shall I say Wilde Thursday night out…  hehe, I am so funny sometimes :-P)  So we went.  The Maidment was packed.  Giddy with anticipation (or was it sugar high from that hasty chocolate bar?) we settled into our seats and waited for the lights to come on…

The Importance of Being Earnest @ Auckland Theatre Company

Humph… It was like hyping yourself up for months and months for a concert only to have it cancelled because the performer randomly decided to suffer from exhaustion.  Or getting all dolled up to go on a first date with an unnaturally cute guy only to find out that behind the dark eyes and gorgeous smile there is really not much else.  Once again I floated myself away on the hot air balloon filled with the promises of smashing excitement too prematurely.  The giant needle that is the ATC ruthlessly pierced said balloon and sent me spiralling down my dismal ends.

I do not enjoy slagging off plays, especially plays that I have enjoyed over and over again since my youth.  But I feel compelled to say this:  Oscar Wilde should be done with suits and buttonholes.  His ironies, satires and vulgarities are all the more delightful when they are subtle.  The full title, The Importance of being Earnest, a trivial comedy for serious people, is itself coyly satirical.  In fact, the same can be said about the name Ernest.  I did not need to see Algernon snorting cocaine nor did I need to be visually acquainted with certain body parts of Cecily that really should had been kept private.  I reached an absolute low point when Gwendolen started undoing Jack’s belt.

By all means, feel free to disagree.  To me, Wildian humour is honest.  It is the sort of honesty that is best dished up alongside the upstart pretensions that is the Victorian etiquette.  Stripping away the latter and leaving nothing to the imagination only makes the jokes and innuendos vulgar and almost beastly.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am all for de novo approaches, alternative interpretations and modern adaptations when it comes to the theatre.  However I disagree fundamentally when these nuances come at the price of losing the spirit of the play.  The dialogues last night were funny.  They were Wilde originals.  Elizabeth Hawthorne’s Lady Bracknell was utterly enjoyable if not for her outrageously modern costume.  But then she was the one character who got to do the least amount of rude gestures.

Seriously it was like an out of body experience of Dr Who…

Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, the Victorian actor-manager, once hailed a taxi and got in. When the cab driver asked “Where to, Guv?”, Sir Herbert looked up from his work and answered, “Do you really think I would give my address to the likes of you?”