The Importance of Being Earnest, as the show’s programme rightly points out, “does not need an introduction”. Nonetheless, there is a reason why this play is so often performed, in different guises and styles. This production proves it’s entirely possible to put on this play without a lavish set that leaves little to the imagination of the well-to-do lifestyles that the characters inhabit. I could grumble, if I wanted to, about how the stage doesn’t look all that different when a scene is set in a London flat as opposed to a scene out in the country. The costumes, although stylish, are ultimately not much to write home about either.
Fortunately or unfortunately, first impressions do count, and it’s a little while before anyone says anything, and even then, its Lane (Nea Cornér), the maidservant (most productions, in keeping with the original, would have the part played by a manservant) who begins with – wait for it – one of the soliloquies from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But if this production goes back in time (the first production of Hamlet having taken place in 1609) it can also be as contemporary as it likes. The Church of England did not ordain women as priests until 1994 – here, Lady Bracknell (Ece Özdemiroğlu), despite her traditional ways and objections to just about everything, raises no protest at the sight of Canon Chasuble (Irem Çavuşoğlu), a kindly clergywoman.
It’s certainly a unique production, billed as being ‘played by immigrants’. There’s something comical about people from elsewhere taking on slightly stuffy British characters with stiff upper lips, and much is made of the bolt upright posture some Brits adopt when seated. The text is also well adapted, seamlessly incorporating mobile telephony, and having several ingenious ways of getting around the more difficult words and phrases in Oscar Wilde’s script. Duncan Rowe as Algernon Moncrieff and Louis Pottier Arniaud’s John Worthing retain their natural accents – North American and French respectively.
The Importance of Being Earnest is a show that could be done at a considerably faster pace than it is done here. But the pauses, a couple of which are so long they may even make the likes of Harold Pinter (1930-2008) wish to consider whether they are really necessary, are accompanied by movements and facial expressions that do more than just fill gaps in dialogue. They are an integral part of the production, such that it works effectively in smaller theatre spaces but would need to be rethought if it were to transfer to a larger proscenium arch stage. I suppose the slower pace is quite refreshing, particularly in a world where ninety minute, no interval productions continue to be prevalent in the fast-paced society in which we live.
Some of the performances are hammy, but notably never overcooked. The consistency in the mannerisms of the characters is impressive. Gwendolen Fairfax (Pinar Öğün) managed to assume the exact same position on the couch several times, for instance, and little forays into the actors’ mother languages on occasion reminded the audience of who they were really seeing on stage behind the mask, as it were, of Victorian characters.
What, at least for me, makes a good production of The Importance of Being Earnest lies at least partly in being able to maintain the attention of seasoned theatregoers (without, of course, confusing first-timers to the play). This production passes that test with flying colours. It’s palpable how much the cast are enjoying themselves on stage, which almost inevitably rubs off on the audience’s enjoyment of proceedings as well. A lively and pleasurable production.
Review by Chris Omaweng
‘Where do you come from?’ is often asked in society where the real question we should be asking is ‘Who are you?’
We usually know where we are from, our culture, our upbringing and when we move, we adapt to where we live, the language we speak… We change and we are changed. Yet the question of ‘Who am I?’ is ever present.
This is a story; a group of actors and creatives who spoke their first words in different languages but made the UK their home, and English, the language of their daily toil and nightly poetry.
This is also the story of Algernon who knows where he comes from but doesn’t seem to be clear about who he is; and Earnest who thinks he knows who he is but not where he is from – a story from the wonderful Oscar Wilde, an immigrant himself.
Pan Productions returns with its first play in English. We bring people from different cultures and languages together to enjoy the English language and explore what it means to be from somewhere else and answer our question of ‘Who are we?’ in England.
Ece Ozdemiroglu – Lady Bracknell
Louis Pottier Arniaud – John Worthing
Duncan Rowe – Algernon Moncrieff
Pinar Ogun – Gwendolen Fairfax
Glykeria Dimou – Cecily Cardew
Serpil Delice – Miss Prism
Nea Cornér – Lane and Merriman
Irem Cavusoglu – Reverend Chasuble
Writer Oscar Wilde
Director Aylin Bozok
Composer Andrea Boccadoro
Sound Design Neil McKeown
Lighting Design Morgan Richards
Set and Costume Aylin Bozok
Assistant Director Morgan Richards
Production Manager Onur Uz
Video and Photography Poyraz Saroglu
6th to 18th January 2020