One of Oscar Wilde’s most enduring plays, The Importance of Being Earnest is notable for the witty way in which it satirises Victorian England. Well over a century since it premiered, and Yasmeen Khan has written a very modern adaptation of the classic, which is now presented as an online stream by The Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield, and The Dukes, Lancaster.
In the same way Wilde used farce to create caricatures of the metropolitan elite, Khan uses the same style of wit to take aim at all manner of stereotypes, but with The North playing a huge role in proceedings. Khan’s characters could almost be caricatures of Wilde’s caricatures, this The Importance of Being Earnest is so gloriously over the top and is genuinely laugh out loud funny as a result.
Our ‘Ernest’ is Jamil, an out of work actor who has created a side hustle with an online vlog highlighting the beauty of the North. He’s offered the chance to be mentored by an internationally famous rom-com star, Algy Moncrieff. Both feel the need to take on fake personae to woo their respective love interests; Gul (Nikki Patel) and Safina (Zoe Iqbal).
While the cobbled streets of “somewhere up North” replace Westminster’s Half Moon Street, Yasmeen Khan continues to focus on the idiosyncrasies of social convention. In a world where popularity is measured by followers and likes, and the place to be seen is Nando’s, Wilde’s best lines find a new sense of comic liberation in Khan’s modern adaptation.
Though much of Wilde’s original is recognisable, Gurjeet Singh reinvents the character of ‘Ernest’ giving him a new sense of vulnerability. Tom Dixon’s Algy is equally compelling, and also makes the biggest strides in terms of character development, reconnecting with his Northern roots.
Along with the principal cast there are plenty of guest appearances, including director Mina Anwar, who brings the same sense of eccentricity to the role of Ms Begum as has been injected across the entire production. Perhaps the most enjoyable cameo comes from Harriet Thorpe as Jamil’s indifferent agent.
One of the most enduring themes of The Importance of Being Earnest is being true to oneself, and that’s something that Yasmeen Khan has clearly thought very carefully about in this adaptation. The Northern wit shines through, but so too does an appreciation of Wilde’s original text, and this very dexterous script manages to pull it all out of the bag.
The Importance of Being Earnest streams 19th April to 4th May 2021. Tickets are on sale here.