Thursday, July 28, 2005

Conal Morrison's Importance

[I don't normally put in the little standfirst bit here, but so much of it was missing from today's paper that i just feel like doing it this time.]


What is it?

The Importance of Being Earnest, an effervescent gay comedy by the notable Irish dramatist, and bunburyista, Oscar Wilde.

What's it about?
A man who leads a double life. Guess what? There are consequences. But like all the best consequences, they’re hilarious.

Author! Author!
Oscar Wilde’s fall from grace began, you might say, on the night that the original production of TIOBE opened. Soon, he tumbled from his perch as the darling wit of the Empire to become instead its whipping boy. But not in the way you’re thinking.

Star qualities?
Alan Stanford’s Lady Bracknell looks likely to go down in the annals. Yes, I said annals. You’re incorrigible, you are.

Now read on
If Oscar Wilde had been able to cast The Importance of Being Earnest any way he wanted, would he have cast men in every role? Possibly, according to director Conal Morrison, who is currently fulfilling Wilde’s unspoken wish in his new Abbey production, in which such beloved roles as Ms Prism and Lady Bracknell are played by strapping fellas.

“I’d be dismayed if nobody objected,” says Morrison. “But I think we have actually be very faithful to the play…For Wilde it was an act of gentle revenge against ”

Morrison’s smart strategy to frame his concept has been to write some new bookend scenes for the play. As the show opens, we find Wilde in Paris, approaching the end, but still swinging absinth and champagne, still receiving snubs and suffering street urchins to come unto him. But when this particular carnival of nasty Parisian blokes walks off stage, it is only to re-appear soon afterwards as the characters in The Importance of Being Earnest. “The play ensues,” to quote Morrison’s stage directions.

“It is hard not to see the play as weirdly autobiographical,” says Morrison. “There are so many correspondences to Wilde’s own life that appear in the play…mentions of “indiscreetly engraved cigarette cases” – which were, of course, involved in Wilde’s own downfall – it’s all these in this play.”

Does the play not, all the same, lose something by not having any women taking part?: “Well, to be arrogantly honest, I think it only gains. It seems to fit in with Wilde’s ideas about artifice and enhances the comedy. People have seen the play so often now that this way of doing it seems to be quite refreshing for them…”

Despite the cross-casting – and despite those overwhelming photographs of Alan Stanford dresses in a capacious ball gown – his production is not, according to Morrison, “…burdened with knowing camp.”

As for directing his show while the boardroom blood-letting went on and the very ceiling of the abbey seemed to be collapsing around his ears, Morrison says this turned out to be “rather energising”.

“We were hearing all sort of extremist talk and gossip. It was quite strange. I found myself making all sorts of Yeatsian speeches to the cast. But I do think it is true that the only answer to all the gossip and the criticism has to be in the work. If the people come and they laugh, well, that will be an answer…”

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