Hamilton Gardens, Chinoiserie Garden, Hamilton

16/02/2013 - 17/02/2013

Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 2013

Production Details

An Earnest Art Form 

It played to over 2000 people in Nelson and now the Body in Space theatre company bring their seriously silly adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest to the Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival.

Jack loves Gwendolen and Algy loves Cecily. The girls love them back, but only because they think the boys are named Earnest, which they aren’t, or are they?

A cast of four (Daniel Allan, Laura Irish, Hamish Parkinson and Roger Sanders) take on all the roles in Oscar Wilde’s famous farce. The actors delight in pushing the boundaries. The veneer of Victorian manners is barely upheld while melodrama, anachronisms, and slapstick abound. They sing, dance and puppeteer their way through an edited version of the once-wordy text to produce something novel that will delight and surprise audience members.

The set and props of the piece are constructed entirely out of cardboard, a comment on the false appearances in the play and also an ingenious nod to the fact that you don’t need a big budget for great theatre.

Nelsonians are still buzzing about the show. The Nelson Mail writes “I have read that Wilde “transformed standard nonsense to a higher form.” Here it is lifted higher still to an art form all its own.”

The company recommends packing a few cucumber sandwiches and joining them in the Chinoiserie Garden. Everybody will go home smiling in under two hours.

Body in Space presents… Earnest!
Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival 
Chinoiserie Garden (if wet: Victorian Garden Conservatory) 
Sat 16 & Sun 17 Feb  
11am & 3pm daily 
Tickets: $10 

Funny, sexy and smart in full Victorian drag

Review by Mark Houlahan 16th Feb 2013

Body in Space promised a seriously silly version of Wilde’s famous farce, which remains the funniest play ever written in English, and they deliver in spades. Originally developed for the Nelson Arts Festival, the production has crossed Cook Strait and is a terrific addition to this year’s Hamilton Gardens Arts Festival.

11am is a great time no doubt to consume muffins, cucumber sandwiches, cake and sugary tea, as Wilde’s characters remorselessly do throughout, but not a time of day one would think of as being innately amusing. Performing outdoors, in blazing heat, scales up the risk. But the energetic quartet Body in Space have sent for this production are well up to the task.

The performance is in the Chinoiserie garden, designed precisely as the kind of faux-Chinese set-up favoured in country houses in England, much like the fictional estate in Hertfordshire where the last two acts of Wilde’s play take place. A small pavilion provides brief shade for the actors and something like a stage to perform on.

Daniel Allan, Laura Irish, Hamish Parkinson and Roger Sanders play all the roles. The men swap genders repeatedly, changing frocks, lowering and lisping up voices as required. When necessary, cardboard puppets and props fill in as characters. This is apt, as Wilde’s characters are triumphantly as one-dimensional as the pack of cards at the end of Alice in Wonderland.

The characters are played gleefully on the verge of extreme caricature, and the actors play with each other more exuberantly than a conventional production would. This brings out the latent desires in Wilde’s characters. 

In the famous interview with Jack in Act 1, Roger Sanders, a purple robed Lady Bracknell, fondles him in a repulsively carnal way. Jack and Algy, in turn, play-wrestle so vigorously as to suggest that a heterosexual marriage is not at all what they really really want.

The production uses large sections of Wilde’s script, and all the play’s famous turns are served; so beautiful to listen to, even with the zany playing. Modern riffs keep the material fresh, with raps, comic singing, and allusions to Wikipedia, Facebook, txting and more.

Hamilton is nicely referenced, and Scribe’s great question “how many dudes do you know roll like this?” is neatly spliced into Lady Bracknell’s interrogation of Jack as a potential husband for her daughter.

The props are cardboard, even the cricket bat and ball the spurned suitors play with – which must also cut down the weight of things to be transported on the ferry and up State Highway 1.

If the show travels to a park or garden near you, do go and see it. These three guys and a gal are excellent value. They sing, they dance, they play with the audience. They are funny. They are sexy. They are smart. In full Victorian drag they must sweat buckets out there, but it is totally worth it. You will be entertained.


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