For such a traditional piece of English theatre, Shakespeare: Reloaded tries valiantly to inject a twist of new perspective into their production of The Importance of Being Earnest.
Opening on Algernon Moncrieff riffing away on his harmonica, the show plunges immediately into Wilde’s timeless script and the 1920s, bringing the show forward a few decades with themed costumes. Although it can be said that the energy remains high, the witty repartee between Jack and Algy is unfortunately somewhat lost amidst a bit too much slapping and catfighting. This is a common trend throughout the show; the squabbling and bickering loses its effectiveness as it frequently ends in rolling around on the floor or characters shrieking at the tops of their lungs.
A welcome break from the hysteria is the scene between Gwendolen and Cecily, rivals for the few moments that they believe they are engaged to the same Earnest they so desire. Forced smiles and falsely sweet voices bring humour to the amusingly set scene. The two women give a persuasive performance of disguised niceties, sitting bolt upright before eventually flinging cake at each other.
The choice to have a woman play Jack Worthing was a good one for this production, perhaps a nod to Oscar Wilde’s subversion of gender roles. It adds to the humour, given that Jack is much shorter than Algernon and as a result often clambers on him in protest or while telling him off, hanging on like a monkey.
An attempt at contemporising the play is made, with it being supposedly set in the German countryside rather than the traditional setting of England. However, not much is supplied to indicate this. The company has come off a recent run of the show in Berlin, where it was performed in a wine bar – perhaps a setting better suited to the “rebellious German counterculture” that they sought to introduce.
The show goes down well at times with the audience, producing laughs at choice moments when not barrelling too quickly through the jokes. It showcases the extravagance of the time captured in Oscar Wilde’s script, and while it often verges on overdramatic, is performed passionately and by a well-polished cast.
The Space @ Venue 45
Until August 22nd at 10:10am
Image courtesy Nick Abram