There have been numerous adaptations of The Importance of Being Earnest over the years, from stage and radio productions to film and television versions. But the Lawrence Batley Theatre and The Dukes’ new digital production brings Oscar Wilde’s classic bang up to date and into a world of instagram, an obsession with likes and, of course, Nandos.
Writer Yasmeen Khan has relocated the action to ‘up north’ and focuses on Jamil (Gurjeet Singh), a struggling actor and vlogger who uses the name ‘Ernest’ to increase his followers. Jamil is being mentored by renowned rom-com star Algy (Tom Dixon) and attracts the attention of Gul (Nikki Patel), who seems more preoccupied with how popular he is; while Algy has his own love interest to deal with, Jamil’s cousin-sister-niece, Safina (Zoe Iqbal).
This reimagined version, skilfully directed by Mina Anwar (who also stars as the fierce Ms Begum), is as satirical as the original and is over the top with its stereotypes without causing offence. With Holly Pigott’s impressive sitcom-like set design and the flat cap-wearing, ‘ee by gum’ speaking characters, there are times when it feels like something out of a Victoria Wood sketch. There are some incredibly witty and funny moments, most notably when Ms Begum interrogates Jamil about dating her daughter in the style of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Another amusing scene features Gul and Safina making friends, and the production pokes fun at how obsessed we are with social media as the pair ‘follow’ each other on every platform.
Another strength of the show is of course its cast. Gurjeet Singh is a strong lead, giving a great performance as the wide-eyed, insecure Jamil who’s trying to work out who he wants to be. Singh has great chemistry with all of his co-stars, but notably Tom Dixon who at the start is the perfect opposite – confident and smug, until he realises he’s also hiding behind a facade. Zoe Iqbal and Nikki Patel likewise are believable in their friendship, and both amuse throughout. And there are also some memorable cameos. RuPaul’s Drag Race star Divina De Campo is impressive, as is Sindhu Vee who plays a long-suffering television host who has to deal with her flatulent co-host (played by Hugh Dennis). Mina Anwar really entertains as the fierce and overly-protective Ms Begum, the brilliant Paul Chahidi stars as over the top director Steve Merriman who’s obsessed with ‘Ernest’s’ northern roots, and Harriet Thorpe puts in a scene-stealing performance as Jamil’s agent Alison from Alison, Alison and Alison (no not that Alison).
This adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest is perhaps a bit too silly at times, but for the most part it works. One slight niggle is the instrumental music which at times really distracts from the action, but despite this the Lawrence Batley Theatre and The Dukes’ production is an entertaining production with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. With its satirical look at the modern day, media obsessed world, The Importance of Being Earnest proves that Wilde’s work is still relevant for a contemporary audience.
The Importance of Being Earnest streams until Tuesday 4 May.