Shakespeare: Reloaded have reworked this classic Oscar Wilde play into something almost unrecognisable. In most adaptations, the characters maintain their upright Victorian façade while meandering through Wilde’s whimsical prose. This interpretation of The Importance of Being Earnest has no time for such restraint. With a cast from all over the world, each iconic phrase gets a whole new meaning. German, Latin American and Eastern European accents roll the words melodically, if somewhat incomprehensibly, around the room – a far cry from the kind of Downton Abbey clipped English we’re used to hearing in association with Wilde’s work.
They are phenomenal as individuals, but unforgettable as an ensemble.
Shakespeare: Reloaded have taken apart the script and added wild stage directions based on the assumption that each character is either being very literal or straight-up lying. It opens up so many possibilities for the performers when they don’t have to take the written word at its most obvious interpretation. Olivia Cole’s direction and the physical comedy do detract a bit from some of the sharpest prose, but the humour is still maintained throughout—sometimes elevated! At times it feels like a pantomime (the audience are encouraged to react as the many Ernests ask for back-up), or a telenovela (dramatic entrances are par for the course).
Compare this Jack/Ernest to the kind usually portrayed on stage, or to Colin Firth in the movie. The character, played by Francesca Magini, is dramatic, flamboyant, noisy, effusive and borderline unhinged. He doesn’t just glare stonily at his friend when Algernon arrives uninvited to his country manor, he screams at him, lashing out verbally and physically, and somehow turns a reconciliatory handshake into a sort of aggressive tango. Alejandro Niklison’s Algernon is closer to the character we know, although still with an extra level of, well, ‘extra’. His reaction to potentially having to wait until Cecily is 35 before he can marry her is peak slapdash comedy; running back and forth like a cornered fox before falling over a row of chairs and coming to rest at the foot of some startled audience members.
In most theatrical performances there is a standout performer, and Magini’s Ernest is certainly phenomenal, but really every person on stage plays their role with vigour and finesse. They are phenomenal as individuals, but unforgettable as an ensemble. The final scenes flick between the two couples, Aunt Augusta’s intervention and Miss Prism’s confession with speed and agility. We are torn between the upstage characters in the midst of dialogue, and the downstage actors reacting emphatically to everything going on around them. If there is one flaw, it’s that there is too much to take in. Sadly, this was the last performance of The Importance of Being Earnest in Edinburgh, but we should all keep an eye on this company. They are definitely going places—hopefully back to the Fringe next year!