Tara Theatre, London – until 16 March 2019
Oscar Wilde’s comedy of manners is rightly regarded as a classic, so we must give thanks for Ayesha Casley-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa coming along and giving The Importance of Being Earnest a new lease of life, with the backing of Two Gents Productions and Tara Arts.
The commitment to present this material in a new way is expressed from the very beginning, when Ayesha and Kudzanayi take out and put together a canvas explaining which parts they’re playing. They both play Lady Bracknell, which is mined for comedy through their almost-constant breaking of the fourth wall, a true test of how charismatic actors really are.
Luckily for the audience, Ayesha and Kudzanayi are enormously likeable, generous performers, who have no difficulty getting a mixed audience of grown-ups to find their silly side. This charisma is the sort of thing which allows the two actors to start the third act with a dance to ‘It’s Not Right, But It’s OK’ by Whitney Houston without it feeling particularly out of place, even though it isn’t actually related to the play. By this point, the audience is totally on side with the world that Ayesha and Kudzanayi have created, and it feels like an intimate gathering, rather than a theatre performance.
The multiple parts also allow the two actors to play with gender ambiguity to great effect, bringing an extra sense of fun to the farcical antics and underlines the deep comfort that they have with each other. Their energetic performances and sheer sense of fun means that they get to the end of Wilde’s three-act farce with the audience clearly wanting more. I would encourage anyone to see this as soon as they can, and to keep an eye on these two extremely capable clowns.