Globe Theatre, 104 London St, Dunedin

26/02/2016 - 05/03/2016

Production Details

Dunedin’s Globe Theatre has been staging plays every year since 1961. It was then, and still aspires to be a major force in amateur theatre presented with professional quality in New Zealand. The NZ Heritage grade 1 listed building however has been deteriorating over time and two years ago a restoration and fundraising plan was initiated to save it. Stage one of this plan was a $550,000 spend.

Through sheer hard work and determination the funds were raised and work began in early 2015. It is new complete and the Globe reopens with a season including New Zealand playwright Gary Henderson’s An Unseasonable Fall of Snow, Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors and a new adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart by Dunedin playwright and author, Keith Scott.

Opening the season is a production of The Importance of being Earnest, which the Globe last staged in 1991. This timeless comedy and Wilde’s famous wit seemed an ideal choice to celebrate being back home in London Street. The production is directed by Brian Beresford and features well known and upcoming Otago actors.

Globe Theatre, 104 London Street, Dunedin
25 – 28 February; 1 – 5 March 7.30 pm
Sunday 28 February 2 pm
Ticket prices:  General $25; Concession $20
Globe members $15; Groups of 5 or more $15
School students (with ID) $10
Opening Night Special $15 everyone

John Worthing:  Matthew Scadden

Algernon Moncrieff:  Andrew Brinsley-Pirie
Rev. Canon Chasuble:  Warren Chambers
Merriman:  Miguel Nitis
Lane:  Jerome Rouse
Lady Bracknell:  Janice Snowden
Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax:  Kimberley Buchan
Cecily Cardew:  Megan Stedman-Ashford
Miss Prism:  Belinda Leckie

Stage Manager:  Christine Johnstone
Lighting & Sound:  Brian Byas
Wardrobe:  Rachael McCann 

Theatre ,

Exquisite classic beats couch burning

Review by Terry MacTavish 27th Feb 2016

Let the joy be unconfined! Dunedin’s historic architectural jewel, the Globe Theatre in London St, is open once more.  Dunedin’s determination to save this Victorian house turned theatre meant over half a million was raised in about a year – not quite as fast as Awaroa beach was secured for the nation, but still pretty impressive.

The circular theatre roof no longer leaks, and the stage area and foyer are freshly gleaming. The entry to the restored theatre is now a gracious board walk over the garden, rather than the romantic but treacherous old winding path through the undergrowth.  

And how could there be a better choice for the grand opening than Oscar Wilde’s ‘trivial comedy for serious people’, that masterpiece of plot, characters and dialogue, pinnacle of the Comedy of Manners, The Importance of Being Earnest?  

The extraordinary brilliance of Wilde’s writings is often overshadowed by the glamour of his personal life and ultimate tragedy, as the lipsticked kisses on his Paris tomb testify, but the fiendishly clever plot and flow of witticisms reflecting London’s brittle fin de siècle society remain as astounding as ever. It is so funny the audience is in a constant ripple of laughter, yet underlying the dazzling wordplay runs a serious satire of the age’s louche attitudes to marriage, money and morals. 

For the Big Occasion the Globe has turned to experienced stalwart Brian Beresford as director. Wisely Beresford trusts to the text, ensuring Wilde’s epigrams and paradoxes are delivered unselfconsciously, allowing Wilde’s magic to enchant us. The actors tackle 1895 society etiquette with assurance, and without striving for extreme English accents, their voices are clear enough for someone in the row behind to murmur, “How nice to hear every word!”

Wealthy John Worthing, known as Jack to his country-dwelling ward Cecily and her governess Miss Prism, pretends to have a naughty younger brother called Ernest, then naturally takes the name of Ernest when he is in London, courting the Hon Gwendolen Fairfax. His friend (and Gwendolen’s cousin), Algernon Moncrieff, intrigued by the sound of pretty Cecily, schemes to visit Jack’s place in the country posing as Ernest.

The scene is therefore set for each young lady to believe she is being courted by a man called Ernest; a name both find curiously attractive. Jack’s situation is further complicated because he is adopted and does not know who his parents are: a serious drawback in the eyes of Gwendolen’s mama, the formidable Lady Bracknell. 

Matthew Scadden (Jack) and Andrew Brinsley-Pine (Algy) are a delightful pairing as the witty but apparently idle young men-about-town, each of whom is in fact leading a carefully concealed double life. Jack’s undeniably earnest pomposity is the perfect balance to Algy’s languid nonsense, which is enhanced by having Algy dressed in the aesthetic fashion favoured by Wilde himself, while Jack, even when furious, is invariably very proper. The rapport between the actors shows to advantage whether they are battling over crumpets or concocting ways to dispose of Algy’s imaginary invalid friend, Bunbury. 

The Wagnerian entry of Lady Bracknell is always eagerly anticipated, and it is a pleasure to see Janice Snowden, who first performed at the Globe in the 1960s, back on the boards, in confident command of the iconic role, despite having broken a foot during rehearsals. Snowden has a warm stage presence which makes her Bracknell less acerbic than the usual interpretation, and she delivers the famous waspish lines as if sharing the joke with us, rather than crushing her victim, which makes an agreeable change. 

Her sophisticated daughter Gwendolen, as played by Kimberley Buchan, shows promise of developing into more of a gorgon than her mother ever was. With beautifully executed snappishness, she annihilates her cousin, suitor, and rival.

Her rival Cecily, performed with great sprightliness by Megan Stedman-Ashford, is almost a match for her in their witty verbal battle – a highlight of the production – but Gwendolen’s venomous response to Cecily’s resolute, “When I see a spade, I call it a spade!” scores the biggest laugh of the evening.

As the governess Miss Prism, who has her elderly maiden fancy set on Canon Chasuble, Belinda Leckie writhes delectably, first with barely suppressed passion, then, when accused by Lady Bracknell, with embarrassment. Meanwhile Warren Chambers, sweetly cherubic as Chasuble, supports her valiantly, and earns his reward. I enjoy the way she seems just as excited about being reunited with a certain significant piece of lost property. 

In the minor but engaging roles of the butlers, Lane and Merriman, Jerome Rouse and Miguel Nitis respectively are discreetly understated, just the contortion of an eyebrow to betray their opinion of the feckless upper classes.

The set is pleasingly simple: a few pieces of elegant furniture and a white central door frame standing out against the smart new black curtains, allowing the action to flow swiftly and smoothly (apart from a couple of confused moves when the characters are crowded together for the denouement). 

Sadly the costumes are a disappointment. The Globe’s wardrobe is obviously not back in action yet, and though Algy’s Oscar facsimile in velvet jacket, loose cravat and luxuriant locks is amusing, and Jack’s appearance in top-hatted mourning suitably striking, the costumes generally have a somewhat grab-bag appearance, thrown or rather tacked together, with the odd visible safety pin.

It is good to see the cast working as a most supportive team, with some cute rescues as opening night nerves mean some lines simply elude the brain. So maybe we miss: “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune… to lose both looks like carelessness”, but after all, even Dame Judi Dench as Lady B once skipped half a page and missed the famous line: “A Handbag?!” (One patron wrote to Judi to say she had thereby ruined the fan’s whole Christmas.)

It’s probably an actor’s nightmare to have a reviewer who knows the entire play by heart (both my guest and myself have toured in professional productions of Earnest) but this is a captivating production, so well-paced that never for a moment do I find myself wishing they would hurry up. The actors will soon relax into their roles, and the lines become perfectly secure. The script is sublime, and the Globe’s dedicated cast brings it to fresh life. 

The temptation is to quote chunks of the gorgeous dialogue – well, maybe just a little? 

Algy : What shall we do?

Jack : Nothing!

Algy : It is awfully hard work doing nothing. However, I don’t mind hard work where there is no definite object of any kind. 

As the enthusiastic first night full house would agree, this is not hard work and beats couch burning. Here’s hoping the influx of University students will make time during Orientation to discover for themselves the charm of the Globe and the genius of Wilde, while the more mature revel in joyful rediscovery of an exquisite classic. The Globe’s Earnest deserves a season of houses as rapturous as tonight’s.


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