The Importance of Being Earnest, Barbican Pit, London
Two men plus silly wigs: not exactly a Wilde night
Sunday 19 June 2005
In Oscar Wilde's comic variation on the Oedipus myth, the foundling, Jack, gets in a tizz because he doesn't realise he's at loggerheads with his own long-lost bro and snobbish aunt. Inversely, it's the audience's very over-familiarity with this farcical romance which makes revivals tricky. Everyone knows the funniest lines, so what has become important is being alternative. The experimental duo Ridiculusmus (aka Jon Haynes and David Woods, pictured right) have duly decided to play all the parts themselves - jumping in and out of various tailcoats, Victorian frocks and silly wigs.
Their previous co-devised pieces have been engagingly bonkers, but this bid for more kudos - taking on a "proper" play, directed by Jude Kelly - exposes their weaknesses. They simply aren't great actors and it appears their only option is being knowingly fifth-rate. It's almost an act of vandalism. Forget Wilde's natty repartee. Ridiculusmus's big joke is how clunking their costume changes can be.
What this production really lays bare is its own aesthetic ineptitude, though Kelly initially makes out that her serious target is Victorian society's outrageous avarice and arrogance. Playing Jack's chum, Algie, Haynes is sour-faced and Woods' Lady Bracknell delivers grim didactic lectures, yet there's no genuine bite and this dark interpretation is not pursued.
The real star of the show is Zoë Atkinson's set: an oddly magical and mad living-room full of second-hand furniture where vintage floral wallpaper has crept over every surface - over wardrobe doors and drawers and even the fridge where the cucumber sandwiches are unceremoniously stashed. The role-swapping does speed up, too, with a shaggy wig standing in for Jack at moments (most suggestively hanging from the lips of Haynes' Gwendolyn when she is caught canoodling). Other winningly surreal moments include the butler's head appearing through a silver platter on the tea table and Algie breaking into a camp disco-dance between scenes, as if his hobby of wanton Bunburying is gay clubbing. Woods' stupendously unladylike Cecily is also strangely charming, galumphing around like a giantess in a childish, candy-pink dress. Still, the longueurs drove some punters to flounce out at the interval - and who could blame them.
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