The Importance of Being Earnest, written by Oscar Wilde, is a wonderfully vibrant play set in the decadent late 1800’s. Based on the character Jack, who spends his time avoiding social obligations and creating a false identity in order to do so, the play satirically critiques the structures of society and the duality of human nature while providing ample comedic value. As the first play to go up in the Byre since it shut down, the organisers and cast are feeling the pressure. However, the production team hopes the play’s universality will open the Byre’s doors to a full house tonight.
In anticipation of the show, The Saint’s theatre editor Sophie Cadden interviewed Olli Gilford, who plays the main character Jack despite being in his first year at St Andrews, and Emily Rogers, producer of the show.
The Saint: How have you dealt with the script of The Importance of Being Earnest? Has it been revised or have you stuck to the original?
Olli: We have stuck to an original, traditionalist performance. It is a period play and we are keeping it that way. We wanted to leave Wilde’s text unaltered; it is great as it is, so we wanted to keep it as naturalistic as possible.
Emily: We aren’t playing with anything here, just using the language to the best of our ability. Modern adaptations don’t go well with the nature of the play.
TS: The Byre is an undoubtedly beautiful building. How does it feel being the first student production to go up in the Byre since it shut down?
Emily: We all feel a lot of pressure because the Barron theatre has 150 seats for a 3-night show in total, but here [the Byre], there are over 600 tickets to sell to fill the place up. To sell out at the Barron with a good size cast you rely on people’s friends coming to see them.
TS: So, what is student access to the Byre like?
Emily: We were reintroduced to the Byre and did a small scene from the show with the boys, but we don’t get a lot of time in here before the show. It is a great opportunity to perform for a bigger audience and work with professional people who know what they are doing, it really is an ideal space. The Byre is starting from scratch so it is hard to picture the future so early on but I only have positive things to say about operations here. The managers are very helpful and we are keen to make the relationship between students and the staff work.
Olli: I feel like this production is too grandiose for the Barron. The Byre has a good feeling. The theatre has a professional air of expectant silence; there is a lot of anticipation for this place to be used. The Importance of Being Earnest is a show that doesn’t necessarily need the Byre but wants the Byre.
TS: Olli, how do you get into character?
Olli: What attracted me to this character was his staunchness; I have played such dramatic parts before, and really, Jack is the only character in the play that retains his sensibility. He is a repressed, withdrawn sort of man, with the British stiff upper lip. Personally, I am a big believer in going back to the source material to get into character and finding out insight about the playwright and getting a sense of his voice in order to keep the tone consistent. You have to look at each line and break it down by emotion, and it is a lot about experimenting with what feels right. It has to be your own original adaptation of the character. Listening to the director and other cast members is important too!
TS: How relevant is Oscar Wilde and his work today?
Olli: This play will always be relevant because people love to laugh. Wilde is still controversial even today, which is what makes him so appealing. There are parts of the play where Wilde mocks people’s false sincerity and things like that still happen today and always will. There is a prevailing preoccupation with judging a book by its cover and we, too, are still obsessed with this idea.
Emily: The mistakes that people make in this play are timeless; Wilde is poking fun at things we all take quite seriously and need to take a step back from. There is something about Oscar Wilde that keeps people going back to his work; when we hear his name we think, “I’m going to be entertained.”
The set is great too: we wanted to make this production as grand and luxuriously Victorian as we could afford it to be. The set is beautifully composed in Victorian style complete with a huge Bay window and swing. It is a ridiculously funny play and bound to be a fun night.
The Importance of Being Earnest directed by Ed Fry and Cara Mahoney will be premiering at the Byre tonight starring Arnie Birss, Olli Gilford, Laura Francis, Emma Taylor, Edie Deffebach, Fay Morrice, William Matthew Knapp, Michael Grieve and Sam Peach.
The production team would like to thank Rummage, Scaramanga, Renton Oriental Rugs and the home improvements & hardware store on South Street for their generous donations to the set.