REVIEW: The Importance of Being….Earnest?, Say it Again, Sorry? (Omnibus Theatre)

This is the last live theatre review that we are expecting to post in quite some time. It’s only been a week since Mummy and Auntie Poppins headed to the Omnibus Theatre to see The Importance of Being…. Earnest? but it feels like a lifetime ago. So much has happened in the last week that it almost feels unimaginable to be sitting in a theatre, let alone watching an actor eat a muffin covered in something that has been freshly vomited from the mouth of a co-star. Ok that last bit was pretty shocking even last week, but Mummy looks forward to the day when she can once again witness this sort of spectacularly silly stuff from Say it Again, Sorry?

The Importance of Being…. Earnest? is an interactive adaptation of the Oscar Wilde classic, in which the audience are called upon to jump into lead roles due to the indisposition of an increasing number of cast members. Written by Josh King and the ensemble, and directed by Simon Paris, it’s utterly bonkers and bizarrely slick for something that, in large part, relies on improvisation by amateurs plucked from the audience. This is no doubt due to the innovative decision to run entirely open rehearsals. Mummy had the pleasure of attending an early rehearsal last year, and was very excited to see how the show has evolved since.

The first scene feels very familiar to the early rehearsals. We begin with the opening scene of the play itself but there is a suspiciously long dramatic pause when Lane (played by Graham, played by Rhys Tees) introduces Mr Ernest Worthing. Fourth wall broken by frantic stage manager, Josh (Ben Mann) and director, Simon Slough (Alex Phelps) we discover that we are watching a production that is being live-streamed to theatres across the world. With Ernest stuck in traffic, there’s no choice but for someone else to step into his shoes and try to improvise the remainder of the scene, once she’s finished her sausage roll. (In proof-reading this review, Mummy has had to correct a typo in the last sentence, which previously read “sausage role”. This amused her no end.)

As if things weren’t bad enough, Jennifer (playing Gwendolen and played by Trynity Silk) is off her face, Sarah (playing Cecily and played by Louise Goodfield) is off to audition for something better, Eleanor (playing Lady Bracknell and played by Susan Hoffman) is royally pissed off at having to work with amateurs and Simon is soon off to the pub, taking yet another audience member with him. With his role as Lane at an end, Graham ends up playing Miss Prism for the remainder of the play. Meanwhile Terry (playing Algernon and played by Guido Garcia Lueches) is just doing his blocking.

It’s a gloriously loopy production which is very much in the spirit of the Wilde original that it ruins, and will have you laughing at both the professional cast and their impromptu co-stars. There is no awkward, enforced selection from the audience here either (although that doesn’t mean that we don’t get involved in the madness at all). The cast ensure that they pick (very) willing victims who are confident standing on stage, although the better efforts come from those who nonetheless go with the flow of the meticulously organised chaos, rather than trying too hard to improvise their own adaptation. The actual cast are all excellent, but particular props(!) must go to Mann as the Stage Manager who seizes the moment to take over as director and Guido Garcia Lueches for his commitment to blocking, however vomit-inducing.

RATING: Raindrops, Whiskers, Kettles & Mittens (aka 4 out of 5 of my favourite things)

The Importance of Being….Earnest? played at the Omnibus Theatre from 10 to 15 March 2020. It was due to play at Brighton Fringe in May 2020 (which has now been rescheduled) and was also due to play at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2020 (which has now been cancelled).

*EXCITING UPDATE* It’s now returning to Brighton Fringe 2021!