Mistaken identities, star-crossed lovers and the roaring 1920s make for a ‘Wilde’ ride in the latest performance being put on by the Manama Theatre Club (MTC), set to start welcoming audiences this evening.
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde will be performed tonight, tomorrow, Friday and Saturday at the British Club in Umm Al Hassam.
Almost everyone who has dabbled in Western theatre has, at some point, heard of Oscar Wilde’s most seminal work, but until the Press preview dress rehearsal which GDN was invited to ahead of the premiere, I had never had the opportunity to enjoy a live show.
Being staged at the club’s Queen Elizabeth II Theatre, the three-act play, originally released in 1895, has been transposed 25 years ahead through time to the affluent early 1920s, in turn teleporting audiences a century back to a time of opulence, over-politeness and, of course, sequins.
While many performances tend to end with a large musical number, this one starts with it, setting the era and introducing us to Algernon Moncrief (Ahmed Al Shehabi) – a well-to-do city gentleman with wandering eyes and fluttering heart, who has been living it up, overseen drily by his manservant Lain (Ebrahim Khan).
Algernon is visited by Jack Worthing (Ghazi Al Shehabi), with whom he discusses ‘Bunbury-ing’ – taking on different names and identities for amusement and/or convenience – named such after Algernon’s own alter-ego Bunbury.
Meanwhile, two of the female leads – Gwendolyn Fairfax (Amy McGavin) and Cecily Cardew (Ahlam Bourdeaa) both end up falling in love with Earnest, but at the heart of the play and the constant back-and-forth is the riddle of who Earnest really is.
Rounding out the host of entertaining characters are Miss Prism (Catherine Noor), Cecily’s governess who has a soft spot for Reverend Canon Chasuble (Ghassan Chemali), as well as Lady Bracknell (Anne Kooheji), Gwendolyn’s mother.
The play, which has one intermission after the first act, takes places across two primary sets – Algernon’s flat in the city and Jack’s manor in the country.
Pairings are at the centre of this play and much of the humour comes from quick-fire repartee between two characters innocuously throwing verbal jabs at one another.
What really shines in this performance are these verbal duels, ranging from the obvious romantic banter to the entertaining back-and-forth between Algernon and Jack, as well as dry observations made by Lane and Merriman (Jack’s butler) – both of which are portrayed with panache by 21-year-old Mr Khan.
Directed and co-produced by McGavin with Al Shehabi and Chemali also producing, a huge part of the show is also the music that sets the scene, with sound engineered by Mike Jackson and lights by David Hawthorne.
If there was one thing I’d have liked to see, it’d be more references to the time period to which the play was relocated – after all, the 1920s in the UK saw everything from the start of BBC broadcasts to a growing suffragette movement as well as a general spirit of post-Great War exuberance.
Understandably, given the miracle that the MTC manages to pull together with every performance, finding ways to work with a tiny budget and the full-time working lives of its volunteer cast and crew, this is definitely a tall order and a nitpick.
Overall, I really enjoyed The Importance of Being Earnest for its witty repartee, fantastic chemistry and rib-tickling moments.
There are just four performances planned for the show with doors opening at 7pm and the show starting at 7.30pm today, tomorrow, Friday and Saturday.
Tickets are being sold at the British Club reception and online, priced at BD10 for non-members and BD8.5 for members.
– Naman Arora