Thanks to the success of recent seasons at the Globe and companies like Edward Hall’s Propeller Theatre, all-male – and even all-female - productions of Shakespeare have almost become de rigueur. But a single-sex production of Oscar Wilde? Tonight (4 May 2005, previews from 29 April), Bristol Old Vic presents a “surreal and irreverent version” of Wilde’s 1895 classic, The Importance of Being Earnest, performed by a company of men only.

In Wilde's satire about manners and morals, prim-and-proper Jack Worthington is in love with the equally prim-and-proper Gwendoline Fairfax. His friend, Algernon Moncrieff is in love with Cecily Cardew. But both Gwendolyn and Cecily are in love with Ernest. A happy outcome depends upon the formidable Lady Bracknell’s investigations into the whereabouts of a handbag and the question of who is really being earnest.

On the matter of the casting, promotions material explains that “Wilde’s play about love, secret lives and deception was his last staged before his imprisonment for homosexuality. It reflects Wilde’s own belief in the falseness of middle-class values and pokes fun at Victorian morality and the need for social disguise. The all-male cast allows (director) David Fielding to explore the raunchier subtext of Wilde’s ‘trivial comedy for serious people’.

The cast features Michael Fitzgerald (who coincidentally appeared in the film Wilde and played the dramatist in Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love) as Lady Bracknell, Daniel Hill (TV’s Waiting for God) as Miss Prism, Christopher Staines (Paradise Lost, The Comedy of Errors at Bristol) as Jack Worthing, James Frost (TV’s No Angels) as Algernon, Joseph Chance (RSC’s Spanish Golden Age) as Cecily, Simon Trinder (RSC’s Spanish Golden Age, Taming of the Shrew, Tamer Tamed) as Gwendoline, Phil Nice as Rev Chasuble and Robert Goodale as Lane /Merriman.

The Importance of Being Earnest will mark the Bristol Old Vic directorial debut for Fielding, who has also designed the production. As well as directing for various opera companies, he has designed productions at ENO, the National and the RSC as well as tours for the Pet Shop Boys. Costumes are by Stevie Stewart, with lighting by Adam Silverman, sound by Jason Barnes and music by Gary Yershon.

- by Terri Paddock