mon 20/09/2021

The Importance of Being Earnest online review - Oscar Wilde updated for the Nando's generation | reviews, news & interviews

The Importance of Being Earnest online review - Oscar Wilde updated for the Nando's generation

The Importance of Being Earnest online review - Oscar Wilde updated for the Nando's generation

Yasmeen Khan's spoof has a big heart

Tom Dixon, Zoe Iqbal and Nikki Patel in Yasmeen Khan's Wilde redux

Oscar Wilde's fabulous play satirised Victorian England and contained a shedload of quotable quips.

Now Yasmeen Khan has written an updated and uprooted version, set in the North of England, which takes aim at any number of class and ethnic stereotypes.

The joint production (by the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield and The Dukes, Lancaster) is set, the onscreen captions tell us, “somewhere in a posh bit of the North" and “somewhere else in the North” and a running gag has several characters saying: “I'll go to the foot of our stairs. No, nobody says that.” Other lines upend British-Asian stereotypes.

As in Wilde's play, the two male leads assume a different persona to woo their loves. "Earnest" is really Jamil (Gurjeet Singh) a struggling actor whose sideline is a “reet good” video site that shamelessly plays up to the “Yorkshire, God's own county” boast, while Algy (Tom Dixon) is the self-obsessed romcom star who is reluctantly mentoring him.

In order to win the hand of the Instagram-obsessed Gul (Nikki Patel), Jamil must impress her mother, the fearsome Mrs Begum (Mina Anwar, who also directs), while Algy has to persuade Jamil's “cousin/sister/niece” Safina (Zoe Iqbal) that his love for her is true, despite his invention of the conveniently unwell Mr Bunbury. Both men, however, tantalise their loves with an offer of a first date at Nando's.

Khan takes some liberties with Wilde's story and characters to serve her comedy. And – gasp – Lady Bracknell doesn't appear, although her famous “handbag" line is uttered by another character. Instead Lady B is mentioned in passing as the cast zip through various plot points to explain how they all came to be here before it all ends happily ever after.

The 70-minute play was filmed in the theatre and there are guest appearances down the line from Paul Chahidi, Sindhu Vee and Hugh Dennis, in characters of Khan's imagination who don't add much to proceedings. The acting is deliberately over-the-top, and it's a matter of taste as to whether you will find this directorial approach amusing or grating. But there are some big laughs to be had in a production with a lot of heart.

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