Ryan Bennett and Aidan Harkins star in The Barn Theatre’s Built By Barn production of Oscar Wilde’s cherished comedy The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Bryan Hodgson.

This hilarious, two-man re-imagining of the classic will runs until 15th February 2020 at The Barn Theatre and will transfer to The Turbine Theatre from Tuesday 18 February – Saturday 29 February. This will mark the first London transfer of a Built by Barn production.

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You’re starring in The Importance of Being Earnest at The Barn Theatre, what can you tell us about it?

Aidan: It truly is the wackiest production of Earnest you’ll probably ever see. The basis of the show is that the amateur cast don’t arrive for the performance so the stage manager and producer have to go on and play all of the parts. As you can imagine, it leads to all sorts of manic and frantic mayhem within the three acts!

Ryan: This Oscar Wilde classic has been reimagined by our director, Bryan Hodgson, as a two-hander farce. It adds a layer of physical comedy and chaotic humour to Wilde’s already razor sharp wit and hilarious dialogue.

There’s only two of you, how do you keep up with all the characters?

Ryan: With great difficulty! But that’s kinda the point – there are a few laughs in watching these two ill prepared characters try. Personally, I’ve tried to create strong vocal and physical choices for each that anchor their identity for both the audience and myself.

Aidan: You have to be on the front foot consistently. If you drop the ball for a second, you can forget who you are and in which scene you’re in. Especially with costume changes. They have to be choreographed and rehearsed until they become second nature. Otherwise the speed and energy of the show dips and it takes a while to get it going again. Every character has to be vastly different, both vocally and physically, for the audience to understand who you are at that particular moment in the piece.

How do you think this reimagining keeps Oscar Wilde’s play feeling fresh?

Aidan: There’s no denying that Oscar Wilde is a prolific, iconic playwright – but it may also be true to say that some of his work is hard to keep current and valuable to a modern-day audience. Indeed, Earnest is effectively a piece exploring the triviality of an upper class system at the time. The style and phrasing of the language isn’t something that our modern ear is used to. By taking the play out of the original context and adapting it so that it effectively becomes a show within a show, it allows our audience to relate to the humour easier. We then have the joy of being able to play circumstantial and physical comedy as well as the treasure trove of textual comedy that Wilde has already provided for us.

Ryan: I think traditionalists will find all the Wilde humour intact and his tone and style is largely observed. But this extra framing allows us to comment on the play from our modern context and imbue it with other physical humour, mistake gags and other silliness. The audience seem to root for “Kevin” & “Graham” as they fight their way through.

What’s been your favourite moment of the run so far?

The Importance of Being Earnest Barn Theatre
The Importance of Being Earnest Barn Theatre c. John-Webb Carter

Ryan: I delight in observing the audiences initial confusion when Aidan comes out as Kevin at the top of the show and explains there will be a delay getting started (as the cast are missing). It always takes the audience a moment to cotton on to the fact that this is all a part of the act. This unsettling at the start resets them within our fresh take quite quickly though. But we do get some sweet – “Don’t worry” comments or waves back at Aidan of sympathy…

Aidan: I definitely think the super quick changes are something that will forever stick with me. The moment when you nail a quick change and can hear the gasps and laughter from an audience as you return to stage is thrilling. They literally have no idea what’s coming next. We’ve been fortunate to have wonderful, warm and supporting audiences so far and they really do make a huge difference to the show.

It’s going to transfer to The Turbine Theatre, the first Built by Barn transfer, what are you looking forward to about that?

Aidan: I’m looking forward to seeing what the audience of such a diverse, accepting and multicultural city take from this reimagined classic. I have no doubt that our Turbine audiences will be hugely different to The Barn audiences in terms of what resonates with them and what makes them chuckle. It will definitely keep us on our toes!

Ryan: I’m looking forward to getting my London friends along to see it! The cheeky bunch tend to think Cirencester is too far to come. No excuses now!

What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to see The Importance of Being Earnest?

Aidan: Come with an open mind and a drink in hand! It’s a feel good, frantic play that will take you out of the craziness of our modern world and drop you slap bang in the middle of the crazy world of this reimagined classic!

Ryan: Bring your friends, grab a drink & enjoy all kinds of laughs. It’s a wild Wilde ride.

Main Image Credit: Aidan Harkins and Ryan Bennett Photo Credit John-Webb Carter

Greg is an award-winning writer with a huge passion for theatre. He has appeared on stage, as well as having directed several plays in his native Scotland. Greg is the founder and editor of Theatre Weekly

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