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Theatre Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

An off-the-wall reinterpretation of an Oscar Wilde classic comes up trumps

The Importance of Being Earnest
Tara Theatre, London

PLAYING all nine characters in Oscar Wilde’s best-loved comic drama, Kudzanayi Chiwawa and Ayesha Casely-Hayford take such liberties with its content and structure that one might expect the whole venture to fall apart in a tangled heap.

Yet the play is so lovingly bashed about that it comes through the ordeal with flying colours, as do the pair themselves.

Operating within a minimalist set and dressed only in white T-shirts and black trousers, Chiwawa and Casely-Hayford offer up a deliberately unruly interpretation of Wilde’s farcical goings-on and, in blurring time, space and boundaries, add an extra dimension to the humour already on offer.

Much of the merriment revolves around the fact that we see the couple struggling to cope with their multifaceted, multiracial roles. Accents come and go, sometimes they lose the thread of what they’re saying, often they bicker about who should be doing what and occasionally they act as if they can’t even be bothered to speak some of their lines.

At times the slips are genuine. But the production is so loosely configured that it’s easy to play any mis-step for laughs. The highly expressive Chiwawa is especially adept at improvisation and her inventive, playful interventions are at the heart of the enjoyment.

There are some slightly baffling elements — for some reason, we’re made to watch the duo preparing and dismantling the set — and there are a couple of short interludes featuring recorded music by Lauryn Hill and Akwafina which seem to have little purpose.

Having all the parts played by just two actors also makes the plot rather more difficult to follow than it otherwise would be, but in the end everything comes out in the wash.

It’s a tribute to Wilde’s robust framework that it can survive such treatment and a credit to co-directors Arne Pohlmeier and Tonderai Munyevu that they have disrespected the play in such a respectful manner.

Runs until March 16, box office: tara-arts.com.

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