Vital importance of being Earnest with just two actors

An hilarious two-man re-imagining of Oscar Wilde’s witty comedy The Importance of Being Earnest is heading for the Turbine Theatre, the new venue next to Battersea Power Station. We asked director Bryan Hodgson to tell us more about his unique interpretation of Wilde’s classic play about social conventions.

How did the idea of doing The Importance of Being Earnest with only two actors come about?

One of my favourite projects during training was a two man version of Teechers by John Godber – the play moves furiously quickly from character to character, and was a hilarious project to be part of. Then, during training, I found my love for the textual bliss that is the work of Oscar Wilde. I’ve always loved the idea of doing theatre with huge obstacles, and overcoming those obstacles; so with Earnest being all about double identities and pretending to be someone you aren’t, it seemed the perfect story to tell with limited casting – and it also makes his hilarious script that tiny bit more hilarious.

Can you tell us about the back story with the rest of the cast, and the parts of Kevin McKinnon and Graham de Hare?

Kevin McKinnon is the Stage Manager for a local amateur dramatics society, and Graham de Hare is the producer. They are both lovers of Wilde’s work, but in completely different ways, and find a shared friendship and bond over having to plough through the production with only each other to guide them.

Have you changed the script at all to suit only having two actors?

Tiny tiny changes, but the script is 99% exactly as written. Surprisingly, the script is predominantly duologues, and there are rarely more than two people on stage at a time (until you get to the third act, and it all falls apart in a cacophony of madness and hat changes).

It must have an epic number of costume changes, how in practical terms have you been able to achieve this?

Oooooo now that would be telling.

Is there not a point where three or four actors are needed on stage at once?

Yes, and it’s fun to see Graham and Kevin get through it.

Do you think Oscar Wilde would have embraced your new version?

I mean, it’s as controversial in the staging today as the text was in its delivery back when it first opened. It’s daring and ridiculous, so I think he’d relish in it. He’d probably be in it!

Of course, having such a gender fluid play is very in keeping at the moment, was that also in your thinking?

Well, I’ve always been of the opinion that anyone that wants to tell a story should be able to tell a story regardless of the character they are portraying and if that bares any resemblance to their own personal identity. Nobody going to a theatre actually believes they are witnessing real life, but simply a company of storytellers enacting a story. So anyone is anyone in this story, and I think the production really champions being who you are regardless of what society expects you to be.

It’s actually been really wonderful seeing audiences giggle at seeing Graham desperately try and keep the show going by putting on a dress and trying to portray his version of how he thinks a 1890s young woman would have talked and moved. Then, after a few moments, audiences see past that and see the story once again, which just proves that people come to the theatre to believe, not to challenge or judge.

What is your favourite scene in the play?

There are so many! But I think the sugar cubes scene between Cecily and Gwendolen is a definite highlight for me – seeing the viciousness that comes underneath the text and in the simplest of movements like pouring tea, is hilarious.

Can you tell us about The Barn Theatre in Cirencester who have delivered this production?

The Barn have only been going for a couple of years, and are doing an incredible job in bringing exciting new theatre to the Cotswolds, and then taking that theatre out of the Cotswolds and to the rest of the country. They are the loveliest people to work with, and have some fantastic ideas. They respect and champion new people, and seem to have created a lot of love within the theatre industry already – I cannot wait to see what they come up with next.

Can you tell us a bit more about yourself and your other productions, especially anything LGBT?

I wouldn’t say I actively look for LGBT stories (even being a gay man myself), but I guess as a director I’m always drawn to stories that affect me as a human, and I have had the pleasure of directing some incredible LGBT stories – that haven’t been predominantly about being part of the LGBT community, but more about love in general. I directed Elegies for Angels, Punks &Raging Queen at the Union Theatre last year, which will have a place in my heart forever – the show was inspired by the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and tells the story of the love that was shown during such a crisis. It hit me hard to see how much love there is to tell stories like that even now, and I look forward to finding another that can one day match its ability to fill me with such warmth and joy.

I also look forward to the day when we don’t even have to say “LGBT stories”, but simply “stories”. Being part of the LGBT community myself, I strive for the normalisation of love being love in the stories we tell, regardless of gender, sex, race, or belief.

The Importance of Being Earnest is at The Turbine Theatre from 18 – 29 February at Arches Lane, Circus West Village, London SW11 8AB. Book tickets on 020 7851 0300

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