Q&A : The Importance of Being…Earnest?
In this riotous twist on a much-loved classic, after the actor playing Ernest in Oscar Wilde's famed farce fails to arrive on cue, an audience member is quickly cast in the lead role. But what should have saved the show, instead sets off a hilarious chain of events that, one-by-one, renders the rest of the cast unable to continue their performances.
The show is written collaboratively by Josh King with Say It Again, Sorry? company members and directed by Simon Paris, having been developed alongside the company’s flagship open-rehearsal initiative, where audiences are invited into the rehearsal room to participate in the creative process.
We were very curious to find out more about both the play and the process, so we asked cast member and Say It Again, Sorry? co-founder Guido Garcia Lueches a few questions.
In a society where there are rules for just about everything, do you think we might have lost our ability to enjoy a bit of confusion?
Oh I do hope not. You're right, everything these days is so codified. Going to the theatre is so formal, I think people get tired of always having the same experience and not being challenged too much. We definitely set out to break all the rules we can with this play, infusing a little chaos into the proceedings. There's something very liberating, we find, in taking something that can feel very strict and breaking it down. Revelling in the rebellion, if you will.
The play gets deconstructed to the point where the lines between the audience and the cast are blurred. Do you think this helps us connect better with the subject, as often in real life, totally different stories get intertwined?
I think when that first audience member comes up on stage, it's very clear to the rest of them that all bets are off, and that whatever their previous expectations were, they're in for a very different adventure. Weirdly enough, it ends up being a rather conventional hero's journey for the audience member playing Earnest, with the big difference being that they're not so much performing, as actually going through it all. So yes, blurred lines indeed, but how can you not root for someone when it could very easily be you up there trying to make it to the end?
Who was the best Earnest yet to have played the part in your play?
I think my favourites in retrospect are the ones that usually give us more of a hard time onstage, who for any reason do things we never would've expected. Silly of me to complain though, as we've literally set the play up to be challenged by the audience and almost daring them to throw spanners in our works.
In one show, whilst playing a game where Earnest is getting asked all sorts of questions, we had someone miming the answers for them to guess, the audience member playing Earnest looks at the actor miming and says"I know the answers, darling, I've read this play more than 20 times." Brought down the house. We did our best to keep our composure.
Do you think that having your main character failing to arrive on set is one of the worst nightmares in theatre?
I think my main nightmare would be to go onstage and not know my lines! But yes, we have a few nightmare scenarios happening in our show & Earnest not showing up is certainly the first one. At some point or another, every actor has to drop out, I won't spoil how, but essentially all the cast is living a crazy nightmare for the entire show, and are saved, at every turn, by heroic audience members.
Did you ever find people in the audience who played their part so well that you were tempted to invite them to become part of the cast?
They are all officially part of our cast, in eternum.
We have nothing but love and gratitude for everyone who has ever volunteered, as we would literally not be able to get to the end without them.
We have met some incredible people through our open rehearsals, who have then come to play bigger parts in our company.
Could you describe your company’s flagship open rehearsal initiative?
We've been aiming to democratise the creative process ever since we started doing walkabout shows in festivals, where we asked people to paint portraits of us in silly costumes, and later put them on exhibition. When we moved from that to asking the audience to perform in a play they hadn't rehearsed, we thought we'd start inviting people to rehearsals as well, both to share what our process is, and to find out if any of our crazy ideas actually made sense to anyone. It's proven an invaluable resource, both for us and the people interested in our work and we are constantly meeting interesting creatives through it.
The Importance of Being…Earnest?, Pleasance Courtyard (Beyond), 1.30, 3-28 August (no day off)