★★★★★ A unique performance boasting perfect control of the space and excellent comedic timing.

Playhouse Theatre, QPAC, W!LD RICE
September 13, 2015

Glen Goei directs an all-male ensemble in Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy The Importance of Being Earnest as part of the 2015 Brisbane Festival’s Singapore Snapshots. Their performance of what Wilde described as a “trivial comedy for serious people” sparkled like champagne, and kept its audience laughing out loud.

Named as Singapore’s “sexiest theatre company” by Lonely Planet, W!LD RICE has grasped The Importance of Being Earnest with both hands, and performed it at its extravagant best. Brisbane audiences watched with delight as Jack (Daniel York) and Algernon (Brendon Fernandez) tangled themselves in a web of deception, attempting to woo the women of their dreams. Impeccably dressed by Frederick Lee, the cast of larger-than-life characters explore notions of marriage, truth, family, social class, gender and identity as Jack and Algernon learn the importance of being honest, and of being Ernest.

The performance began well before the opening line was uttered. As the audience took their seats, the cast appeared from side stage and began circling the auditorium, offering cucumber sandwiches on silver trays as a string quartet from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in Brisbane played a selection of pieces from the likes of Bach and Mozart.

The sets were minimalist, monochromatic and cleverly multi-functional. Inspired by the illustrations of Aubrey Beardsley and designed by W!LD RICE’s founder and Artistic Director Ivan Heng (who also gave a thrilling performance as the formidable Lady Bracknell), six triangular prisms on wheels were turned between acts to create three different settings – Algernon’s house in London, Jack’s country garden and the interior of his manor house in the country. Lighting designed by Mac Chan was also used to great effect.

Although all of the cast were highly commendable, Ivan Heng and Chua Enlai stood out as Lady Bracknell and her daughter, Gwendolen Fairfax. Exaggerated voice, gesture and expression brought the audience to tears of laughter. Even when Chua Enlai forgot a line and briefly broke character at the climax of Act 3, it was laughed off by the cast and audience alike.

The whole cast had perfect control of the space around them, and excellent comedic timing. Brendon Fernandez was energetic and easily egotistical as Algernon Moncrief, contrasting against the more stoic, grounded demeanour of Daniel York as Jack Worthing. Scenes with just the two of them created a brilliant balance of light and shade. The same can be said of the scenes featuring only Gwendolen and Cecily (Gavin Yap); the sophistication and flawless social conduct of Gwendolen juxtaposed against the impetuous girlishness of Cecily’s character.

Both Algernon’s butler Lane and Jack’s manservant Merriman were portrayed by Crispian Chan, whose deadpan delivery during crisis and chaos perfectly captured his character. Hossan Leong was outstandingly pedantic as Miss Prism, Cecily’s occasionally-hysterical and morally upstanding governess, whose romantic attachment to the Reverend Canon Chasuble (Lim Kay Siu) forms the sub-plot of Acts 2 and 3.

It was wonderful to see that, in casting an all-male ensemble, W!LD RICE also made the decision to stick to the original script and character list. In other performances of The Importance of Being Earnest, the female characters tend to be dressed in pastel lace and petticoats. Glen Goei’s cast, including the string quartet, were dressed to the nines in several changes of couture costumes, shining shoes and coat tails. The only distinction made between the genders in physical costuming seemed to be slightly heavier eye makeup for the female characters. The actors distinguished themselves further as either men or women through their mastery of voice, gesture and body language.

W1LD RICE has taken an often-used script and crafted a unique performance that is sure to delight and amuse even those who have seen The Importance of Being Earnest performed many times before.

Contribute to Limelight and support independent arts journalism.