The Importance of Being Earnest on West Sussex tour - with a cast of just three

Importance of Being Earnest Hazel Caulfield - Gwendolen
Importance of Being Earnest Hazel Caulfield - Gwendolen

A new take on Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest will see the cast reduced to just three as it tours West Sussex this summer.

The production comes from West Sussex based theatre company This Is My Theatre and runs alongside performances of The Wind In The Willows, all under artistic director Sarah Slator.

Simon Stallard is delighted to be in both.

He is promising a particularly frantic version of Earnest, with just the three of them in the company: “Much of the play is broken down into duologues which obviously helps, so it certainly works with just two or three people, but in the third Act we have got all the characters on stage at the same time so it all becomes totally crazy.”

There will certainly be some quick changes of role. All three of them, for instance, are Lady Bracknell at one point or another.

Simon is hoping that amid all the laughs the serious side of the play will come through.

“It was certainly written as a provocative piece. It is a criticism of all the deceptions of the upper-class way of life. There is a constant satirising on the stage of the quirks of the English politeness system and of being so insincere and duplicitous about who we are and who we pretend to be. It is a huge attack on the facades that people put up, and it is huge fun watching all the facades come falling down.

“These are characters who are deceiving themselves and other people. The play never loses its light-hearted touch and it does all work out in the end. Oscar Wilde is very careful, but it does not show the upper classes as honest.”

Much has been made of the deceits over the years as being part of a cover-up for a homosexual subtext: “It has been very much speculated that there is that homosexual side to it that people are careful to hide and certainly the author himself knew a lot about keeping it secret, and the play certainly does tap into that, but Oscar Wilde keeps it all very subtle.”

Wilde’s tragedy was that within just a few weeks of the great triumph of the opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest, he was in prison doing hard labour: “He never bounced back from the trial and died in poverty not so very long later. It is amazing how he went from being the toast of society and being privileged to be part of it, although still criticising it, to being in prison and never really coming back.”

For West Sussex, there is plenty of local interest too, given all the play’s links with Worthing and Oscar Wilde’s stay there: “It very much centres on the local area.”

It all adds up to a busy summer ahead, but one that Simon is relishing: “It will certainly be tiring, but it is very exciting. It is one of the longest tours we have done as a company and also one of the most densely packed tours we have ever done.”

Dates for The Importance of Being Earnest include

July 24, 7.30pm, St Botolph’s Church, Botolphs, near Steyning

August 10, 7.30pm, The Guildhall, Chichester

August 13, 7pm, St Wilfrid’s Church, Church Norton, near Selsey

August 27, 7.30pm, St Peter’s Church, Preston Park, Brighton

Dates for The Wind in the Willows include

July 25, 3pm, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Warminghurst Near Ashington

July 27 and 28, 3pm, The Walled Garden, Tilgate Park, Crawley

August 10, 3pm, The Guildhall, Chichester

August 13, 3pm, St Wilfrid’s Church, Church Norton, near Selsey

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