Lit lit

The Importance of Being Wasted (Act React)

The Lord Alfred Hotel (Petrie Terrace), May 7 – 9

Alliance Hotel (Spring Hill), May 14 – 21

Jumping Goats Bar (Margate) May 22

Act React have always looked at things a little differently, as their previous pop-culture inspired interactive theatre comedy shows have illustrated. Rather than interrogating a movie through their trademark lens, however, at this year’s Anywhere Festival, the company is turning its attention to a literary comedy of manners, only with a cocktail twist. Specifically, their take on Oscar Wilde’s, “The Importance of Being Earnest” sees a rotating roster of two cast members getting drunk each performance, making for a truly unique and very funny theatrical experience befitting the site-specific locations afforded by the core premise of The Anywhere Festival, which aims to connect audiences, locations and shows with local nooks and crannies.

The story of two late Victorian English gentlemen, respectable protagonist Jack (Simon Chugg) and charming Algernon (an engaging Daren King) bending the truth through invented associations to add some excitement to their lives is a wonderful fodder for the idea, particularly as events start to go awry plot-wise. Like a cultured “Drunk History”, the show presents the trivial comedy of serious people in a considered matter that retains its essence but amps up the humour, making it accessible even to audience members without appreciation of the original text. Indeed, while the amount of bunburying within the story brings humour in and of itself, the addition of some music, a cast song and increasingly drunken character commentary, exclamations and expletives make for a very funny experience.

On opening night these come from drinkers, an increasingly bold Jenna Murphy as Jack’s Earnest-obsessed ward Ceciliy and an often giggly Ellie Hardisty as her governess Miss Prism, Algernon’s domineering aunt, Lady Brackell and especially, in later scenes as Merriman, the butler at Jack’s Manor House in the country. Add in the farce that comes from the quick costume changes that accompany required role-swapping (especially from Damien Campagnolo in switches from the rector on Jack’s estate, Dr Chasuable and Algernon’s manservant, Lane to the imposing matriarch Lady Bracknell) and the hilarious feature of a coat rack, and the show is filled with memorable moments.

The premise allows ample opportunity for improvisation as the confusion of inebriated players needs to be redirected by each show’s sober performers (on opening night primarily, Chugg, King and Elizabeth Best as Gwendolen), and performers do well in this regard, ensuring that Wilde’s witticisms are maintained as much as possible, despite being so easy to trip over after a few drinks. Similarly, abridgment of the original play not only maintains its essential sensibility, but offers a shorter, punchier script that allows for players and audience members alike to roll with the resulting chaos.

“The Importance of Being Wasted” is a delightful experience, well-suited to its presentation in the stately surrounds of The Lord Alfred Hotel’s beautifully restored Verandah Bar, meaning that the audience can drink along with the performers, apart from their audience-instigated skols. And it is such infectious fun that you will probably find yourselves wanting to hang around post-show for another drink, or at least wanting to head home for some crumpets.

Act React’s “The Importance of Being Wasted” is a full-of-surprises and Wilde-ly entertaining experience that creates a new comic rhythm to a classic of the theatre. Under Natalie Bochenski’s direction its sense of fun suits it being a festival show, while still honouring the original text and the craft of its author amongst the controlled chaos of its celebration.