The Importance of Being Earnest
Dir. Joe Boon and Maria Paris
The first of the Freshers’ Plays, The Importance of Being Earnest was an admirable effort made by some of the newest Mermaids. This one act version of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy of romance and the importance of being ‘Ernest’ had a lot of things going for it, but unfortunately stumbled over some major hurdles that overall left it wanting. As a Freshers’ Play it was very well done – acting was consistently strong and the design of the set and costumes was impressive considering the shoestring budget the production team was working with. The use of music to indicate scene changes was also very well done and provided a great interlude between scenes.
The major problem of this one act mostly came down to the pacing of lines. Wilde’s prose, particularly in a one act version of this play, mostly does the work for the actors in terms of keeping the pace of the show sharp. It’s unclear whether the actors were unsure of lines or simply not enough time was spent in running the lines to meet the demands of the script. I spent a decent portion of the show simply listening to the gap between one performer’s line and their opposite’s response. As a pet peeve, it’s a very technical aspect that I was particularly tuned into. Another aspect of the production which was distracting was the blocking – I found it hard to focus on some of the scenes where characters were having an important conversation, simply because nobody was making eye contact. Both of these things were possibly due to nerves, as this was the first Freshers Play, and the first night of performances for Earnest, but these are also things that are easily fixed from a directing standpoint by paying attention to them, and ensuring that the cast know that pace and eye contact are key. There were also a few lines that felt as though they were played for laughs but fell flat on delivery.
I don’t mean to be unnecessarily harsh. The purpose of the Freshers’ Plays is to give experience to students who are new to theatre in St Andrews. They are not meant to be perfect productions (which I am acutely aware of, having been involved in Freshers’ Plays in my first year) and are definitely meant as a learning experience. There was a lot of good in the play – the cast and production design were great, and there was definitely a great rapport between Jack and Gwendolen and consequently I enjoyed every scene they were both in. The cast definitely committed to their roles and to each other during the occasional stumble, which was a great thing to see. Overall, it was an admirable production – but by no means perfect, and one that could have been much better than it was by tightening a few key aspects of performance.