Red Rose Chain’s The Avenue Theatre, in Ipswich, is ideal venue to stage The Importance of Being Earnest
The Importance of Being Earnest is the most renowned of Oscar Wilde’s comedies and here writer and director Joanna Carrick tells us about her adaptation being performed by The Red Rose Chain next from March 21.
For those not familiar with the play, bachelors John “Jack” Worthing and Algernon “Algy” Moncrieff create alter egos named Ernest to escape their tiresome lives. Mishaps ensue.
“I thought it would suit The Avenue. I had a vision for directing it in the round, so the audience will feel like they are really in the room or the garden with the characters. I also think our audience will love it – and I had the idea to cast Laurence (Pears) and Lawrence (Russell) an irresistible combination,” says Joanna, Red Rose Chain’s artistic director and founder.
Billed as a surreal journey through the heightened absurdity of Wilde’s words that distorts the lens through which we view the past, her adaptation is about memory and centres around the 85-year-old butler who is played by her father Antony Carrick.
“I’ve written an explanatory scene set in 1963 where the descendants of Wilde’s characters are selling the house in Hertfordshire and coming across clues to the past while they pack up the stuff. It’s fast-moving, very funny and there is some doubling, but there’s also a dream like quality which will make it unique.”
He’s not the only Carrick on stage, with Joanna taking on one of theatre’s best and most preposterous creations; Lady Bracknell.
“I’m loving it – it’s a bit terrifying but the language is wonderful and the rest of the cast are so supportive. It’ll be fun. I’ve not performed in my own writing very often at all. The last time I was in a play was King Lear, four years ago. In my own script, I was Nelly in Wuthering Heights but that was back in 2004.”
Rehearsals were going fabulous when we spoke. She, Antony, Red Rose Chain semi-regulars Lawrence and Laurence plus newcomers Leonie Spilsbury and Joanna Sawyer have got through loads already.
“We all get the concept and there’s a lovely atmosphere in the room. The text is very demanding – lots of work for the actors to get it right and make it seem effortless to the audience.”
Making performances dementia friendly is a massive priority for the theatre.
“The show has been designed to focus on the idea of memory... There are special matinees with afternoon tea which will be particularly special. Tickets are £5 for people living with dementia and their families or carers.”
“Can’t stand the man, he has my name, it’s very confusing,” says Laurence. To which Lawrence counters: “As long as he continues to avoid being funny everything will be fine.”
Theatre in the Forest fans and The Tale of Mr Tod audiences will recognise both. Both are new to the roles of Jack and Algy. Both have confidence in writer and director Joanna’s vision.
“I think Jo’s take will breathe life into sections of the play that don’t usually receive,” says Laurence, looking forward to the cucumber sandwiches.
“Jo’s brilliant at provoking our comedic styles, so we’re having a lot of fun and there’s already some great moments even after a few days,” adds Lawrence, a fan of the characters of Miss Prism and Dr Chasuble.
Red Rose Chain’s famed fast-pace, energy and quick costume changes sets this production apart from others; exploring the anarchy and with throughout the play.
“The beautiful scenes at the beginning of the play gives the audience a wonderful deeper sense of the world of the characters that isn’t usually explored,” adds newcomer Joanna Sawyer.
Sublimely written, so much can come from simply delivering the lines says Lawrence. All seem slightly nervous about the taxing text though.
“Every line is a tongue twister. Wilde’s wit is flawless I only hope my mouth can keep up,” laughs fellow new face Leonie Spilsbury.
“It means you have to be word-perfect, any error can be catastrophic,” adds Laurence.
Not that the wordiness should put anybody off. Everybody agrees it’s a show all ages will love and a great way to get into classical literature. Playful, fun, as touching as it is ridiculous, as Laurence notes: “It’s one of the funniest plays ever written and it’ll be a ruddy good laugh”.
“There’s something for everyone. Jo is great at getting the physical and wordy elements equally to come to life,” says Joanna.
• The Importance of Being Earnest runs March 21-April 9, Tuesday to Sunday, 7.30pm nightly with 3pm matinees on Wednesdays and weekends. See here for tickets