Phenomenal as it might seem, this scribe once slept in the very room Oscar Wilde died in. Apparently it’s also actor Johnny Depp’s favourite room to stay in. Situated in a small establishment – aptly called ‘L’otel’ on the Left Bank of Paris, the room has since been redecorated to resemble an over-the-top version of its former self – peacock printed wallpaper not in 2D but in 3D-like paper papier mache, so thick it’s as though the birds themselves are coming off the walls (Wilde did make a comment about the gauche wallpaper in his last dying words).
Noticing a taxidermed peacock on the stage of the Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production of The Importance Of Being Earnest, and seeing that the other elements of mis-en-scene in all their decadent glory (more of that bird-print wallpaper, delicate tea sets, thickly upholstered armchairs), I couldn’t help but be thrown back to the sensation I felt in that small French hotel room. Indeed, Earnest is probably Oscar Wilde’s most famous play, and when it comes to recreating classics, a theatre company ought to either strip it back and keep it simple, or go three-fold with the aesthetics so as to really make a grand statement. Thankfully, Black Swan have done the latter, staying true to Wilde’s adage that “in matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity is the vital thing”.
Each character is like a caricature of Edwardian decency (or indecency as is much of the case), not least of all the two male leads in the production, Algernon (Scott Sheridan) and Jack (Stuart Halusz), who both adopt pseudo-personalities so as to impress the objects of their affection. Both take on the name ‘Earnest’ – which their leading ladies simply adore the sound of – yet both possess conniving characteristics that are far from sincere.
Jack proposes to Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen (Jenny Davis) just as Algernon is falling for Jack’s ward Cecily (Adriane Duff). Meanwhile, Gwendolen’s mother – the very strict Lady Bracknell (Rebecca Davis) – is doing her darnedest to see through the façade and ensure her niece is not taken for a ride.
The dialogue is fast-paced and witty, packed with a brand of innuendo that, if considered somewhat risqué today, would have been outrageous in its own day. The costumes – by Lynn Ferguson – are a treasure trove of colour, although not as bold as those seen in previous incarnations of this production, while the set design – by Alicia Clements – is a spectacular series of decadent colour including two amazing 30-foot murals of floral arrangements constructed for the outdoor garden scenes.
Black Swan’s The Importance Of Being Earnest is a masterful production that ought to appeal to fans of the cheeky playwright even if they have seen several versions of it before. As for novices to Oscar Wilde’s naughty literature, it’ll prove a delightful eye- and ear-opener.
Black Swan State Theatre Company’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest is on at the State Theatre Centre until 28th March. Bookings through Ticketek on 1300 795 012 or visit www.ticketek.com.au.
Photography by Gary Marsh.