‘The Importance of Being Wasted’ was raucous.
Every production gets a little funnier after a drink or two. Inviting your audience to a pub is one way to loosen up the laughter, but asking the actors to also imbibe the beverages guarantees an enlivened room.
Act React played this concept to their best advantage, taking the cheek of Oscar Wilde’s calamitous Victorian play, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and switching it up with their own iteration, ‘The Importance of Being Wasted’. The madness was cranked up a notch at the Lord Alfred Hotel on Friday night as a part of the Anywhere Festival.
The play is a classic for a reason. It toys with men who fabricate identities to live frivolously, their convoluted journey toward comeuppance and forgiveness, and their ultimate assertion of earnestness. The women they fool parody societal archetypes with pomposity and verbal venom as they navigate betrayal and triumph.
The stage was simply set – just a couple of tables had been cleared to give the actors two runways on either side of the bar and a foreground that was subtly lit. The chic 1920’s outfit of the hotel flattered some of the costume choices but clashed with some bolder colours which failed to characterise congruently. The concept of the play relied on the atmospheric elevation of an engaged, beer-buzzed audience, which unfortunately took some time to warm up, as a handful of demure audience members sat politely in the illumination of the hotel and within everyone else’s eyesight.
As the play began, the crowd was immediately won over by Jack Worthing’s pompous caricatured English drawl. Actor, Simon Chugg, punctuated lines that have been heard plenty of times before with original comedic nuance.
The innovative costume changes for actor Ellie Hardisty, who went back and forth between Lady Bracknell, Miss Prism and Merriman, came to a flourish in the finale at her most intoxicated, with the integration of the hatstand as a character an epitomising moment of the mayhem the production sought.
The chaotic, sprawling monologues grew naturally more entertaining throughout, and mistakes and blanks were dwelled upon and championed with a “bottoms up” mentality.
A highlight was Mr Piano Man, Thien Pham, punctuating all the best beats with suspenseful or jokey chords, or even an apt gag involving an Amy Winehouse karaoke moment. Much of his accompaniment had to be improv, and the swiftness with which he adapted while laughing along was applaudable.
The direction of the play faced limitations, with the audience split either side of the actors, yet the delivery seemed sent toward the neutral middle ground of the bar, and a handful of moments went amiss. However, the camaraderie of this troupe of actors was evident in their ability to physically adapt to each other’s impulses and instincts as the chaos hit road-bumps and sped off in surprising directions.
Ultimately, the actors might have been the ones having the most fun. Anywhere Festival exists to give independent and amateur actors the opportunity to create and most importantly have fun which is what makes this festival such a highlight in the Brisbane theatre calendar. There was a precious sense of vicarious enjoyment bubbling through the room as the actors had the time of their lives, stifling giggles, creating surprising variations upon a classic and suspending disbelief in an original and truly enjoyable way.
‘The Importance of Being Wasted’ plays on Saturday, 22 May 2021 at the Jumping Goats Bar, Margate. For more information visit the Act React website.
Photos by Act React