Such a great idea for a really enjoyable evening. Take one well-loved satirical play, place it in a suitably-atmospheric room (with bar), identify two performers who have to keep drinking throughout the show, mix in a little audience interaction, and garnish with live music. In the hands of the fabulous Act/React team, you have a winner. And probably two actors who have a slight hangover the following day.
Anywhere Festival is all about promoting new shows in new places—bringing performances to spaces other than traditional theatres, allowing new and established teams to bring new work to new audiences. For the 2021 Anywhere Festival, Act/React presented an increasingly drunk reinterpretation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, as part of a short season ‘bar crawl’ across Brisbane and Margate.
Such a perfect Anywhere Festival idea. This is an enjoyable contemporary reinvention of the Oscar Wilde classic, with a liberal sprinkling of improvisation and occasional coarse language. Terrible to generalise I know… but thespians do have a bit of a reputation for the odd tipple… so setting a drunk version of the Oscar Wilde classic comedy of manners and Ernest/earnest play on words… in a bar … is a winner.
Familiarity with Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of being Earnest is not a pre-requisite for enjoying this new show. The original is a classic piece of entertaining social commentary, centred on two couples and their respective journeys toward matrimony. The Importance of Being Wasted reinvents the original with the clever device of requiring two members of the cast to drink their way through the performance. As each actor took their turn in undertaking the arduous responsibility of getting through the show while drunk, every performance was different. At The Alliance, on Thursday 20th May, we saw Simon Chugg (Jack/Ernest Worthing) and Daren King (Algernon Moncrieff) take one or two ‘for the team.’ The quick introduction to the drinkers included the various ‘triggers’ that would require them to speed-up their consumption. And then the merriment began.
Act/React have another winner on their hands. The team follow much of the original script, subject to helping the ‘drinking’ performers whenever they wobble through lines, when improvising suitable audience asides, and when responding to the challenge of drinking more.
The casting was perfect, as both the original and this reinvention require theatrical skill and great comic timing. Chugg was a definite star (drunk or sober); I particularly enjoyed Chugg’s partnerships with the truly fabulous Elizabeth Best (Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax) and dapper-despite-the-loose-braces Daren King (Algernon Moncrieff). Hats off to Damien Campagnolo and Ellie Hardisty for their often-hilarious juggling of the roles of Lady Bracknell, Miss Prism (Governess), the Rev. Canon Chasuble, Merriman (Butler), and Lane (Manservant). Hardistry’s Miss Prism and her controlling Lady Bracknell were memorable characterisations, while Campagnolo proved to be an all-round entertainer in any costume.
Rounding out the stellar team was Jenna Murphy (who portrayed a suitably precocious Cecily Cardew) and Thien Pham (on keyboard). I loved the exchanges between Best and Murphy, and also between Murphy and King. And it was an inspired idea to extend the first act stage direction of the original (‘the sound of a piano is heard in the adjoining room’) with the improv musical addition of Pham’s keyboards throughout the show and interval.
The experience of the Act/React cast and creatives is clear to see. This was a funny and highly professional show. Despite the drinking pressures on memory and stability, the cast managed to romp their way through to the end of the script, and left the audience wanting more. Look out for future shows that star all or any members of this latest show. I’d also recommend following Act/React where you can, and keep your fingers crossed that the team are able to return to The Alliance for future performances of The Importance of Being Wasted. This is a great show for any venue seeking to attract a new crowd, or wanting to fill a bar on a quiet night, and I know a number of friends who would love to have the chance to get to see Wasted. I hope the cast can stagger back to a bar near you soon.
Verdict: Cheers! Oscar Wilde would have approved. Another winning show from the Act/React team.
Audience information: Queensland premiere season at The Lord Alfred Hotel (7:30pm, 7-9 May), The Alliance Hotel, Spring Hill (7:30pm, 14-21 May 2021), and the Jumping Goats Bar, Margate (22 May, 6:30pm). 120 minutes (including a short interval). The Alliance venue was perfect, so why not arrive early, pick up a drink at the bar, and take your seat. 18+ (held in licensed premises). Cabaret tables. The remaining two shows are now sold out ( tickets were $33 [concession $28]).
The reviewer attended the Thursday 20th May 2021 performance.