When W!ld Rice announced their 2020 line-up for their 20th anniversary, most local theatre fans rejoiced because the choices made were fantastic—with The Importance of Being Earnest being one of them. First staged way back in 2009, it left an impression with the artistic direction of having an all-male cast play all characters in the play. Although gender-bending is nothing unusual in theatre, dating right back to Greek times and Shakespeare, it offered a fresh perspective to the comedy of courtship and the idiosyncrasies of romance, one might say.
However, now in 2020, what does The Importance of Being Earnest offer us beyond humour and that lightness of nostalgia?
Written by Oscar Wilde, the play is a punny theatrical piece of two men bending the truth to court and eventually try to land the loves of their lives. In between the mess of inventing a brother and pretending to be one, the audience is privy to the layers of deception, desperation and drama. Directed by Glen Goei once again, the original cast is back together to kick off the 2020 season for W!ld Rice with live accompaniment by quartet The Concordia Quartet.
The set by Wong Chee Wai and lighting design by Tai Zi Feng are simple and straightforward to fit The Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre at Funan Mall. Black and white designs of floral and fauna frame the stage. Minimal set pieces are used to facilitate the best use of a more intimate staging while lights dim and brighten when necessary. The costumes by Frederick Lee are a counterbalance to this simplicity, with its elaborate embellishments on suits and the bold choice of colours. They come together nicely to hint at the time period while not serving as too much of a distraction from what the focus of this show is—the punny use of language to carry the humour and of course, the acting.
Crispian Chan starts off the show as Lane, the butler, with a simple movement of walking down the stairs while holding onto a tray of afternoon tea. Though with minimal lines, his character tickles you with his use of dry humour and his presence is always a joy to experience. The camaraderie of Chua Enlai‘s Gwendolen Fairfax and Gavin Yap‘s Cecily Cardew is as enjoyable as I remember it years ago. They pick up each other’s rhythm without missing a beat and they never fail to build up a scene, earning laughs from the audience almost effortlessly.
A special mention to Ivan Heng, performing Lady Bracknell herself, who has adapted the character whenever the situation arises.
The Importance of Being Earnest is enjoyable and a lovely walk down memory lane for theatre goers who have followed this company for a decade now, though certain moments did come across as overly rehearsed and certain lines were lost in the moment. Beyond performance itself, I have to wonder if there is any more the show can offer us in 2020 beyond reminiscing and a get together for old times’ sake. Perhaps that in itself, is good enough?
The Importance of Being Earnest
Date: From 7th February 2020
Venue: The Ngee Ann Kongsi Theatre, W!ld Rice
Time: Tuesday – Saturday, 7.30pm / Saturday & Sunday, 2.30pm
Admission: From $40 (Get your tickets here.)