Importance of Being Earnest – interview with the director

Oscar Wilde’s classic next for the Thespians
Our production of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ by Oscar Wilde opens next Tuesday (10 March) in the Syngenta Cellar at the Lawrence Batley Theatre. It runs until Saturday.
We caught up with director Derek Smith:
What do you think audiences will most enjoy about your production?
The production is being performed with the audience on three sides so that they can feel as if they’re eavesdropping on the conversation in Algernon’s London flat or even sitting in Jack’s sunny Hertfordshire garden.  Having an audience so close is always a little nerve-racking for actors, especially first-timers, and four of the cast will be making their Cellar debut – but all are feeling very confident.
Oscar Wilde is quite specific about the age of the younger characters in his play.  For our production we have tried to keep to those ages (sometimes using even slightly younger actors) so that our two pairs of young lovers are in their 20s.  That means Lady Bracknell can be younger than she is often portrayed and not quite the harridan that is often seen.  However she is still appalled by the mention of a handbag and London’s Victoria Station, although not with quite the same indignation that Dame Edith Evans displayed!
What made you want to direct ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’?
It’s a play I’m very familiar with although I haven’t directed it before.  I wouldn’t like to say how many times I’ve seen it performed, either on stage, by professional and amateur companies, or as a film.  The BBC have also done at least three radio versions of the play.  I’m sure any regular theatregoer will be familiar with Wilde’s comedy.
For me the main challenge is that it is being performed in the LBT Cellar, a small space with a limited acting area. Most audiences will be used to seeing the play on a conventional proscenium arch stage with lots of Victorian furniture and props.  Because of the space the amount of furniture is limited to allow the actors room to manoeuvre!  The props have been carefully sourced, right down to the correct cucumber for the sandwiches, and Wardrobe have spent a lot of time on the costumes.
Do you have a favourite scene in the play?
I don’t really have one favourite scene.  Throughout we have tried to heighten the comedy element.  Wilde’s words in themselves are extremely funny but all of the cast members have brought their own sense of comedy and comic timing to the characters, creating a nice balance of wit, humour and on occasion sheer farce that hopefully our audiences will appreciate.
For those who know the play well we hope there will be something about our production that they will find a little ‘different’.  To anybody seeing the play for the first time, we would like to think they have a treat in store.  ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is classic theatre at its wittiest and funniest and the hard-working cast are looking forward to entertaining the audiences and sending people out with the smile on their faces.