One of the qualities of good writing is its resilience. Despite the inadequacies of an abysmal production, good writing persists. So, when good writing is put in the hands of talented artists who know what they’re doing, it can make for a remarkable show.
To be sure, Mark Yeates’ Artefact Theatre Co. have tackled their most populist show to date with The Importance of Being Earnest, and as Jerry would say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” And Jerry’s absolutely right, as one the very nice things about theatre is that on its grand vend diagram there’s plenty of overlap between the circle of “Plays that are good” and the circle of “Plays that are popular.”
I probably wouldn’t be typing this paragraph at all if I hadn’t had the privilege of watching Artefact’s superb debut, Proof, and their fantastic follow-up production of Seminar. Both featured great writing, brilliant performances, and nowhere near the audience both shows deserved.
This production of The Importance of Being Earnest has all the hallmarks of those previous efforts: simple but effective staging along with strong performances. Mark Kowalyov’s set is mostly white – a trellis angled on one side, with a cabinet/wall/nook-thing on the other. From here, Giancarlo Salamanca’s lighting gently grounds each location with colour accents cast across the top of the space to lovely effect and a subtle sense of place.
Mark and Rosco Dwyer as respective chums-later-brothers, Algernon and Jack/Earnest, were a terrific pairing, wringing every sweet drop of comedy from the contrasts between their characters. Thomas Jones as Lane/Merriman, Suzanne Sandow as Miss Prism, and Frank Handrum as Reverend Chasuble, all performed well in their supporting roles.
James Cutler rendered a splendid performance in his role as Lady Bracknell, while Olivia Solomons had an excellent turn as her daughter, Gwendolyn. Cazz Bainbridge was marvellous as the naïve-yet-eager Cecily. Compared with Algernon’s life of enthusiastic idleness, Cecily’s isn’t shy about being motivated, which Cazz brings out in hilarious fashion from the time we first meet her until the end and that wonderful titular final line.
Artefact Theatre have approached a familiar text with a beautiful sense of craft, making a popular play feel fresh, delight and entertain.
The Importance of Being Earnest
Irene Mitchell Studio – St Martin’s Theatre, 28 St Martins Lane, South Yarra
Performance: Friday 30 March 2018
Season continues to 7 April 2018
Information and Bookings: www.artefacttheatre.com
Image: James Cutler as Lady Bracknell (supplied)
Review: David Collins