The Importance Of Being Earnest (Burley Theatre)

earnestVenue: Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre (Sydney NSW), Jul 11 – Aug 3, 2013
Playwright: Oscar Wilde
Director: Brandon Martignago
Actors: Michael Whalley, Kurt Phelan, Katie McDonald, Paige Gardiner, Andrew Benson, Tamlyn Henderson, Ana Maria Belo

Theatre review
Mason Browne has design credits for this production, and his work outshines all other components. Every visual aspect is beautiful, witty, thoughtful and sometimes quite sublime. The backdrop, costumes, furniture pieces, and even the colour palette of sweets on a cake stand, are delightful and faultless. He helps situate the play in a comfortable space between late Victorian England and modern day Sydney, which allows the show’s audience to effortlessly identify social and class mechanics which are crucial to the narrative.

Director Brandon Martignago has a flair for high camp, and his approach to comedy is dynamic and effervescent, so it is indeed these elements that he is able to extract best from Wilde’s writing. This production is best at its raucous moments, but falls down when the jokes are subtler and require more nuance. Martignago does interesting work, but needs to be more diligent in his casting. His actors all fit perfectly the physical requirements of this visually stunning show, but only half of them are able to deliver Wilde’s lines with enough complexity and skill.

Michael Whalley, Katie McDonald and Ana Maria Belo are stand outs, delivering hilariously broad comic moments, as well as clear character developments that move the plot along. Whalley is particularly strong and immensely likeable as John Worthing. His Noël Cowardesque voice is charming, and while he is usually playing the “straight” amidst the chaos, it often is his groundedness and well-timed reactions to the other players that help keep the story in the right trajectory.

Burley Theatre is an important figure on the Sydney stage. Its flamboyance and emphasis on beauty and production values are refreshing and well-received, and other groups should take heed.