The UWE Drama Society have taken Oscar Wilde’s most famous play The Importance of Being Earnest and perform it with one small difference; the cast are made to improvise based on suggestions made by the audience whilst continuing to perform the play.
As to be expected, the concept put onto the play produced many a laugh. An Algernon ‘With no bones’ rolled across the stage whilst a Jack who ‘Believed he was God’ boomed out orders and declamations. The cast definitely enjoyed themselves but the show was not without its limitations.
To really make improvisation work one needs to commit to it: sadly this production lacked both commitment and conviction. Sometimes the actors gave up on the improv task far too early and in a few instances did not even try at all. There were also significant opportunities for some real drama that were totally missed by the actors. For example, one of the improv orders ‘Algernon has noticed the audience’ had definite potential for hilarity through some sort of audience interaction; no such luck however.
Another problem with the improvisational concept with a play such as Earnest is that it relies too much on the audience knowing the story well. Having said this, it seems that knowing the play can also be a hindrance to the performance: Jack and Algernon definitely received a lot more improv orders than the other characters, which made the performance seem imbalanced.
The ability to improvise well is a a huge talent, yet also something that needs to be rehearsed extensively: unfortunately this performance lacked both. It was just too silly and a bit dated. If the cast focused all their energies into making a really good production of Earnest, they would surely succeed.