Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST • Ridiculusmus @ Barbican Pit • 2005

Barbican Centre, London [Wikipedia]

Barbican Centre, London [Wikipedia]

No sooner have we had The Tempest at the Globe with all the parts played by three male actors than BITE:05 brings us Oscar Wilde’s great comedy with nine roles played by two: Jon Haynes and David Woods. Why? Perhaps there’s only the mountaineer’s reply: “Because it’s there.” Why not? Why ask? Just enjoy it, for it is very, very funny.

How do they do it? With skill and considerable ingenuity. In a play that relies for its plot on an imaginary brother, an imaginary fiancée and an imaginary invalid, it is seems perfectly in order to ask the audience to use just a little extra of their own imagination. In fact, it is not really imagination that the audience must contribute but they must accept that basic theatrical premise that if we are offered this as something or someone, it becomes it. This production would make a perfect subject for a theatre studies semiotics with its signifiers and signified, animate and inanimate. An actor or a puppet, a hat, a frightful wig, a skirt, or a jacket, leave us in no doubt who is who as David Woods plays Lane, Worthing, Cecily, Chasuble and Lady Bracknell, and Jon Haynes Algie, Gwendolen, Miss Prism, Merriman — and Lady Bracknell also.

They begin by operating their own sound and light effects and zapping a CD player — you may get some sense of the production if I tell you that Bracknell enters to Wagner’s Valkyrie music.

This is the first time Ridiculusmus have worked with an existing text and, though they do indulge some anachronistic music and choreography during changes of scene, and the set reveals a modern refrigerator to store Lane’s cucumber sandwiches, they play the lines absolutely straight and with great sincerity. No swooping vowels for Lady Bracknell, though the style does grow a little more florid as the play draws to a close. Wilde’s brilliantly funny text comes through fresh-minted. Despite some sumptuous costuming with a wonderfully flamboyant hat for Gwendolen to match her yellow and orange ensemble and a crowing black cockerel perched on Lady Bracknell’s head, this minimal casting concentrates attention on the words with its succession of aphorisms and one-liners amazingly forming a conversational interchange.

This is also the first time the company have worked with a director and clearly this production is a close collaboration with Jude Kelly. She has certainly ensured that they never go too far. Cross-gender casting often produces refreshing results and, as often happens in Shakespeare, these characterisations give us the essence of girlishness and sophistication without caricature. Wood’s Worthing and his ward sound just a little countrified against the clipped tones of Haynes’s aristocrats and both actors cleverly differentiate their vocal characterisations (though when Haynes takes over from Wood as Chasuble his Welsh tones do veer towards Seller’s Indian).

The two actors, as Worthing and Cecily, wonderfully preserve proprieties in a romantic scene where their hands hover together but never quite touch, but we enter another dimension when Cecily, already in her imagination well into an engagement, begins to strip fiancée Algie to the waist and already has his flies undone before she is forced to desist. There is a gradual escalation of stylization from here on as both actors lose their trousers but (and perhaps there is just a touch of the Kenny Everetts here) all ‘in the best possible taste’.

Designer Zoë Atkinson has covered the floor with Persian rugs and surrounded the stage with a wall of screens and furniture — wardrobes, sideboards, cupboards, bookshelves, a piano and chests of drawers — covered in a mosaic of patterned fabrics that give a sense of an overstuffed fin de siècle scene with a fold-out row of fabric garden trees to tell us when we have moved outdoors. Her costume designs, incidentally, are on display between the Pit lobby and the theatre: don’t miss them. And don’t miss this show. I think Oscar Wilde would have loved it.

The only thing that did not work for me was a galliard danced as a curtain piece but after such a captivating show, Woods and Haynes should be allowed a little self-indulgence.

Howard Loxton © 2005

Originally published on R&V 12-06-05


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

The Immortal Jukebox

A Blog about Music and Popular Culture

Ace News Desk

This site has been designed to provide reports together with news events as they happen when they happen across the world

Dave Plummer Saxophonist

Wedding & Events Saxophonist - Leicestershire and Hampshire


Books, Reviews and bookish thoughts

Creative writing and art by Charlotte Begg

Creative writing and art by Charlotte Begg

Mallory James

Writer - Author - Historian

Act Professional

A How-To Guide for Actors from Someone Who Has No Idea What She's Doing

Iris Theatre

Supporting the next generation of professional theatre practitioners


The site for 'Madcap Mabel' - Mabel Normand


The site for and by adults with ADHD

Scandalous Women

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

The Naptime Author

Anne Clare explores the world of writing, one stolen minute at a time.


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Woman the fuck up

Hear me roar. Writer, mother, actress, maker of beautiful things, witch. Not taking any more shit and neither should you.


Dedicated to Women Pilots of the Solent


illustration, colour, fashion + lifestyle blog UK


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Improbability Archivist

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, Doctor Who,

WCH On This Day

Working Class History anniversaries every day


Yoga classes and aromatherapy products in Andalusia, Spain.

LOIS BRYAN Photography and Digital Art

History And Other Thoughts

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...


theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Secret Diary Of PorterGirl

The everyday adventures of the staff & students of Old College


Subject to change.

The Müscleheaded Blog

"Nothing Exceeds Like Superfluous Jejunity "

Women of History

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

Jon Danzig's World

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013...

The pallet Junkie

Hand crafted furniture

Dreaming Reality

If Existence is a dream, let us dream perfection....

Exploring best practice and research in sexual violence. A loud voice in the fight against victim blaming. Written and Managed by Jessica Eaton, Doctoral Researcher in Forensic Psychology

Teagan's Books

Now available: "Murder at the Bijou - Three Ingredients I"

Padre Steve's World...Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

Musings of a Progressive Realist in Wonderland

The History Woman's Blog

Just another weblog

Art by Jess Miller

sculpture and artwork

Cooking on a Bootstrap

The #1 budget recipe website

surprise saffron

relishing in life's surprises, delighting in food, travel, art

Wish I Were Here

Journeys Through Place and Time

Doron Art

A journey into my world of Painting

Taylor Revert

An anything-and-everything blog from life's number one fan

Random Facts in History

History is complex, massive, and full of strange events and coincidences. Learn with me as I hunt those out and bring them into the light.

%d bloggers like this: