Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is a classic. A witty comedy about 19th century manners and mistaken identity, it is a satire on the rich and upper classes, while also being about family, love, friendship and belonging. This version by Two Gents Production and Tara Arts is unique as it re-imagines the play in the context of a diverse and integrated English society, set in an indeterminate future. Two Gents Production was founded in 2008 by Denton Chikura, Tonderai Munyevu and Arne Pohlmeier, the latter two of whom are the co-directors for the current production. The company embraces energetic, South African theatre style, physicality and audiences, which clearly shows here.
It is also unique in that only two actors, British-African women Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa, play all nine characters. At the start, they put up what looks like a home-made backdrop displaying their names and the characters they play as well as demonstrating the mannerisms and tone they will undertake for each one. This was very helpful for those who both know and do not know the play. Both actresses were fantastic, having the audience in stitches throughout. The change in mannerisms, tone of voice, their physicality, the asides to the audience and even the stating of stage directions was well done. Both share the role of Lady Bracknell, who in this production has been altered to an African-born woman, while Miss Prism’s accent shows her Trinidadian twang. Ayesha and Kudzanayi are able to tap into their experience of being women as well as their cultural identities to bring a warm, rich nuanced approach to all the characters.
They use a mocking and playful tone and banter with the audience, bringing the audience right into the heart of the play. With only two actresses some scenes obviously require more than two characters so audience members are picked to either stand on stage or remain in their seats, but don’t worry as they’ll direct you. The cozy 100 seat theatre with seats surrounding three sides of the stage and a brick wall at the back, creates an intimate space perfect for audience participation. Get prepared the make some British country side noises!
There is no intermission and during the few minutes between act two and three the actresses put some music on and try to get the audience to dance. This was fun, but seemed disjointed. Props were minimal and brought the 21st century into the play in a way that had us chuckling; think iPhone and a milo tin. With the bare set, minimal props and stage lights being up throughout the production it had the atmosphere of being like a workshop, but direction kept it focused on the fast-paced dialogue and characters. We immensely enjoyed ourselves and would recommend a delightful, laugh-out-loud night at the theatre watching The Importance of Being Earnest.
Performing from 27 February to 16 March 2019 at Tara Theatre. OerformNce tones are 7:30pm with additional performances at 3:30pm on Saturday 2nd, 9th and 16th March, and 2pm on Thursday 7th and 14th March. Tickets from £11.50.
Address: Tara Theatre, 365 Garratt Lane, London, SW18 4ES.
Phone: 020 8333 4457
Written by Caitlin Neal