Though it begins with a quotation of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy, this production of The Importance of Being Earnest otherwise leaves Oscar Wilde’s play intact.
Created and performed by a company of immigrants under Aylin Bozok’s direction, it’s an enthusiastic production, but one that feels over-stuffed with ideas.
As Algernon Moncrieff’s impish servant Lane, Nea Cornér takes on the muddled role of orchestrator of the various love affairs and line-prompter. It’s a device that threatens to distract from the dialogue between characters, and also means the production forgoing any claim at subtlety.
Though the cast is often admonished for deviating from English and Bozok draws attention to the attempts of Algernon (Duncan Rowe) and Jack (Louis Pottier-Arniaud) to perform their roles as English gentlemen through repeated mirrored movement, it’s not clear in what other ways the company’s international, migrant-focused approach has informed the production’s choices.
Dressed in hipster-gothic costume, the cast gives highly exaggerated, emphatic performances that clash with the slow pace and uncertain timing of the production. Neil Mckeown’s sound design pairs each character with a particular sound effect, but this device is sporadically used.
Despite the satisfyingly prissy way in which Lady Bracknell and her daughter insist on seating themselves, the set’s lone sofa placed towards the back of the generous space makes for some awkward staging.
While the production fails to wring out all the laughs from Wilde’s writing, Ece Ozdemiroglu is an enjoyable Lady Bracknell, smiling beatifically before raging. As her daughter with a booming voice, Pinar Ogun’s intense Gwendolyn is another highlight.