Saturday, December 10, 2022



The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde.

Directed by Jarrad West assisted by Steph Roberts and Joel Horwood. Stage manager Alice Ferguson. Technical director Nikki Fitzgerald. Property design Marya Glyn-Daniel. Lighting design Nathan Sciberras. Sound design Nathan Patrech. Costume design Fiona Leach. Costume realization Fiona Leach. Tanya Taylor Sandy Cassidy Lucy Jones.  ACT HUB. December 8-17 2022

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

The Downlows- Louiza Blomfield and Dave Collins

Jarrad West’s stunningly imaginative cabaret version of The Importance of Being Earnest is Wilde at his wickedest. It’s the perfect Christmas gift- wildly satirical, hilariously witty and a festive theatrical treat and fitting gift for the Silly Season. In the madcap cabaret setting of the Bunbury Tea Club, West and his brilliant cast of oh so silly characters treat the audience, seated at tables in ACT HUB’s theatre   to Oscar Wilde’s irreverent comedy of manners. 

Steph Roberts as Algernon and Joel Horwood as Ernest
For anyone unfamiliar with Wilde’s perplexing confusion of mixed up identities, it’s really quite simple. Ernest, who is really John but called Jack (performed with delicious folly  by Joel Horwood) visits his friend Algernon, who is played with a witty sense of certainty by Steph Roberts. Jack has invented Ernest while he is at his Belgrave Square residence in the city and to attest to his love for Gwendolen (Shae Kelly), the daughter of the rather intimidating Lady Bracknell played as a younger but no less commanding figure by Lainie Hart. Ernest, who is really Jack loves Lady Bracknell's niece Gwendolen Fairfax, played in this production by Kelly in drag.  Gwendolen will only marry someone called Ernest and abhors the name Jack. Things aren’t going well for poor Jack who is Ernest. And then there is Algernon’s imaginary friend Bunbury. But that just adds to the confusion. 
Shae Kelly as Gwendolen and Holly Ross as Cecily
Meanwhile Algernon arrives in the country and instantly falls in love with Jack Worthing’s ward Cecily Cardew (Holly Ross). Cicely meets Gwendolen and reveals that she is engaged to Ernest who is really Algernon. Gwendolen reveals that she is engaged to Earnest and thereby hangs more confusion and a fan-flicking stand off.  It’s the kind of confusion that only the  British Upper class could create. And what about Cecily’s companion Miss Prism (Victoria Dixon) and the venerable Dr. Chasuble (a jolly bumptious somewhat Dickensian performance by Janie Lawson), who is in love with Prism? The contagious confusion continues!  Merrilane the Butler and Manservant, played with insouciant detachment by Blue Hyslop in holey fishnet stockings and tails observes the riotous carry-ons with the air of impartial servitude and silent disdain.

Blue Hyslop as Merrilane. Lainie Hart as Lady Bracknell and Louiza Blomfield
In less imaginative hands, Oscar Wilde’s wildly successful satire on the Upper class could just be another faithful period piece. West has turned the play into a delectable cabaret production while remaining true to Wilde’s scintillating text and ridiculous but likeable characters. Cabaret artists, The Downlows, Louiza Blomfield and Dave Collins introduce the evening with Liza Minelli’s The Singer and throughout the performance each character has their moment at the microphone with appropriately chosen numbers from Celine Dion to Backstreet Boys to Peter Allen with a grand finale when confusion becomes clear and John Paul Young’s  Love is in the Air rings through the theatre. Jack has won his Gwendolen, Algernon his Cecily, Chasuble his Prism and a happy end heralds a life as vacuous as before. By partially casting against gender and type, West has stripped back the artifice to reveal the shallowness of Upper class society.  Cabaret is the art of exposure and West’s re-imagining exposes the past to reveal the universal  present.

Steph Roberts. Lainie Hart and Holly Ross as Cecily
 Though the purist may frown at this production’s gay abandonment of traditional staging, the more discerning audience will revel in the fresh approach and faithful observance of Wilde’s wit and satirical observance. On a more sombre note, Blue Hyslop’s non-binary identity terms in the programme give cause to reflect on the injustice suffered by Wilde as a victim of his homophobic past and the society he satirized. Vanity may have been his downfall. Cruelty and shame was the price he had to pay.

A highly talented cast embrace the spirit of West’s vision and the facile superficiality of Wilde’s self-absorbed characters. Each actor brings a distinct absurdity to the role. Holly Ross’s unique performance in the role of the girlish, frivolous Cecily deserves special commendation. In a company of excellent performers, Ross exudes star quality. Keep an eye out for this young emerging actor. She has a bright future ahead of her.  West’s direction keeps the audience engaged as actors play out their scenes throughout the theatre. No fourth wall will intrude on the audience’s engagement  and immense enjoyment . 


Janie Lawson as Dr. Chasuble. Victoria Dixon as Miss Prism
Jarrad West, assisted by Joel Horwood and Steph Roberts, has created an original and highly entertaining  production of The Importance of Being Earnest. It is a sparkling jewel in the crowning achievement of ACT HUB’s 2022 programme. In a season that has seen such highlights as  Alchemy Artistic’s The Boys, Free Rain’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Chaika’s Collected Stories, and Everyman Theatre’s Hand To God The Bunbury Tea Club Cabaret production of The Importance of Being Earnest is the perfect choice to round off a stellar year of first class theatre. 


Photos by Janelle McMenamin