This perky and playful version based on Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Earnest is engaging to watch but can feel as though it gets too carried away in places.
Reimagining The Importance of Earnest for not only contemporary audiences, but moving it to the North, Yasmeen Khan’s adaptation manages to retain the spirit of the original while adding a extra sparkle and dimension to the characters that is really pleasing.
Directed with great warmth and spirit by Mina Anwar, this co-production between the Lawrence Batley Theatre and The Dukes sets the story up in a town in the North where struggling actor Earnest/Jamil is being mentored by huge romantic comedy star Algy and uses the name Earnest to increase his following. Both soon find themselves in trouble when misunderstandings occur between them and their love interests – Gul (who is interested in how many followers that Earnest has) and Safina (who is starstruck by Algy).
While initially it takes a little time to settle down, it is certainly a pacy adaptation that manages to blend elements of the original (the scene between Gul and Safina as they both figure out the deception played on them both – is a real highlight scene) and the contemporary in terms of how Gul considers Jamil’s social status based on how many followers he has works really well in highlighting how the story can work for a modern audience.
Throughout it all, it manages to retain sharpness of the comedy that is essential to make The Importance of Being Earnest but the changing of the structure of the story can be detrimental in places – including the scenes in which Jamil appears on a television show or the audition exercises about the North which feel a little over the top and that don’t quite fit in with the progression of the plot.
Yet this being said, I did enjoy the sequence in which Ms Begum interrogates Jamil as a potential suitor for Gul through the use of a Who Wants to be a Millionaire styled quiz is a lovely twist on the traditional Lady Bracknell interrogation scene. It could have used more moments like this to have helped retain the story’s structure.
There is also a sense that there is a transformation of the characters that work well with the performances. In particular seeing the way in which Tom Dixon’s initially vain and arrogant Algy takes a more central role in the story, while Gurjeet Singh’s Jamil hilariously struggles to deal with each situation thrown at him is a nice twist. Both performers have a great dynamic with each other. Elsewhere, Mina Anwar plays Ms Begum with a wonderful diva like mannerisms, while Nikki Patel delivers a charismatic performance as Gul and Melanie Marshall as Miss Prism is delightfully warm and engaging to watch.
Overall, this is silly and entertaining version of The Importance of Being Earnest that offers a new perspective – but could have done with being less over the top in places.
By Emma Clarendon
The Importance of Being Earnest will continue to run until the 4th May.