“The Importance of Being Earnest” by Oscar Wilde
Review by Meredith Fuller Psychologist Author Theatre Maker
Immersive Theatre – All Sorts Productions in association with National Trust
At La Bassa Mansion Caulfield North 7 – 31 March www.allsortproductions.com.au
Dir Maurice Mammoliti
This production was a delightful experience; every aspect was superb. Mammoliti directed a true ensemble – every member worked as one and, as such, all provided standout performances. Many people are likely to be familiar with Wilde’s play, but the direction was so fresh and engaging it felt new and filled with suspense.
As the audience was guided around the rooms for each scene at La Bassa Mansions, the history and restoration provided value-added appreciation. It is hard to believe that in the 1960’s this was a boarding house filled with students, struggling individuals, under employed actors, and males hooning up and down the staircase on their motorbikes. The National Trust has been working its’ magic for over forty years. Many years ago, an ugly block of flats were removed to reclaim the frontage, and now the mansion is restored to its halcyon days. What a unique opportunity for theatre! We were greeted by Basil as we entered the property and directed to refreshments and snacks (cucumber sandwiches of course) that could be enjoyed sitting outside before the play began.
Set, costumes, blocking, and attention to detail were impeccable elements that transported the audience into each scene with alacrity.
Basil, the first footman, was our host and mastered creating a relationship with the audience with his quick witted one liners and comedic asides as he went about his business.
His banter with Peter Helfi (playing two butlers) was matched by Greg Pascoe (Dr Chasuble) and Angelique Malcolm (Miss Prism) as the four toyed with the audience and requests for photos during scene breaks.
Marie Therese Byrne (Lady Bracknell) channeled her formidable character so brilliantly that we even felt her imminent arrival in the wings (well, the hall outside the door) before she commanded the stage. Byrne’s adroit timing in delivery and haughty humour gave the play gravitas and she was a linchpin for the other roles.
Both Patrick Hill (an endearing, foppish Algernon) and Ian Ferrington (an earnest-yet-bewildered John) were excellent together, and similarly, Katherine Innes (an exquisite, clever Gwendolyn) and Ruby Duncan (a spirited, enchanting Cecily) were perfectly matched in their scenes with each other. Both young women were mesmerizing together.
Our first introduction to Malcolm and Duncan was inspired choreography. Tension between Pascoe and Malcolm was palpable yet layered with surprises.
Hill and Duncan were magnificent together and pulled off a tricky feat I have rarely seen done so expertly; the precise amount of affectation ideal for their roles yet remaining in service to the gestalt – where the sum of the whole ensemble is greater than the parts. There can be a tendency for some actors to over-do, or do-over the other actors with such a delicious role, but in this case, we saw two consummate professionals who got it right. Bravo Hill and Duncan.
Hair, makeup, and wardrobe as well as the manner in which each actor profoundly inhabited their role was so impressive that my partner, a psychologist/film maker spent the entire play frustrated that he couldn’t locate which colleague was someone he had met before. I finally had to tell but he refused to believe that Malcolm, a very attractive young actor/director, could possibly be the dour, stout Miss Prism.
The group I was with included a Vision Australia training puppy – Millie could not have been made more welcome by the thoughtful Basil. His warm up and close down performance was impressive, as he bustled about managing the crowd, the music, and proceedings.
Actually, many audience members murmured that they would like to take Basil home with them.