NOTE: The following review dates from June 2005 and this production's original UK at London's Barbican Centre.
Here is The Importance of Being Earnest as you’ve never seen it before - and you’re aware of that from the moment you enter the Barbican’s Pit theatre.
The set is a mishmash of twee period furniture (all pasted with gaudily printed material), modern knick-knacks, a stereo and mini lighting desk. These last two items give you the general idea of the piece - the two performers do it all themselves (or seem to do so at any rate).
This is Ridiculusmus’ first production of a pre-scripted play (they normally devise their own work) and their first collaboration with a director, Jude Kelly. What the duo do here is apply their particular brand of deconstructed, anarchic theatre to Wilde’s play, blurring the lines between the characters, and between the actors and the characters. It’s not a totally original idea and has echoes of Peepolykus and the Reduced Shakespeare Company, the latter particularly in terms of the fast, mad changes and simple character signifiers.
But whereas the Reduced Shakespeare Company recognise they can’t, and don’t even attempt to perform the Bard’s plays with any seriousness (in their Complete Works of Shakespeare show), the Ridiculusmus team seem to be trying to present Wilde's play as ‘properly’ as they can, or rather as properly as they can under the given restrictions.
The irony is that The Importance of Being Earnest is a very funny piece, but here the humour becomes secondary to the duo’s devices to get through it. We're encouraged to laugh more at the ridiculousness of the performers’ situation than Wilde’s play, which seems a waste to me. To be fair, the second half does rely more on the repartee for its humour as well as the actors' desperate shortcuts into character, but this shift only occurs after the interval. Too little, too late.
I’m not sure where Kelly’s contribution comes into it (except for some rather clever umbrella play which may have come from her Singin' in the Rain days). She would have been well employed in some editing of the superfluous, peculiar (and not very amusing) dance sections which I can only imagine exist to cover up quick-changes.
Jon Hayes and David Wood’s irreverence is charming but somehow, to my mind, this marrying of their style with a well-known text doesn’t quite work… in trying to do justice to both they do it to neither. That said, first-time watchers of Ridiculusmus’ work should still be taken with this offering.
- Hannah Kennedy