University theatre group Gone Rogue Productions brings us a genuinely funny hour's entertainment with this production of a beloved classic.
It actually becomes a bit hard to work out why they've gender-flipped the play at all.
Oscar Wilde's seminal farce tells the story of Jack Worthing, a respectable gentleman in the country, who occasionally likes to go up to town under the alias of “Ernest”. He wants to marry Gwendolen Fairfax, but her formidable mother won't let her because Jack has no idea of his heritage, having been found in a handbag in Victoria Station when he was a baby.
Gone Rogue's 'gimmick' (their words) is that all the female parts are played by male actors, and vice-versa. It comes as a great relief that they avoid the trap of making a joke out of this fact. We are never expected to find it funny that there are men wearing dresses. Instead, the humour emerges from the characterisation; the actors play to their characters' genders, but they only overdo it to the extent that you’d expect in a farce. It actually becomes a bit hard to work out why they've gender-flipped the play at all. If the characters themselves had been flipped, and we had been confronted with a wild, man-about-town, female Jack, this might have been some sort of social commentary. As it stands, it's really just slightly unusual casting with no clear purpose.
It is quite clear that the cast are not professional actors, but none the less, there are some standout performances. Chris Barlow and Robin Johnson are very entertaining as Cecily and Gwendolen, and Johnson in particular brings a catty humour to his presentation. Ian Wainwright is a very commanding Lady Bracknell, and aside from a few issues with diction he’s very funny.
Some very enjoyable audience participation is included in the form of Miss Prism, who is cast from a member of the audience. Everyone in the cast gives the impression of having a very nice time. It's infectious and the spirit of the delivery becomes much more important than the execution.