>THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST by Speechwork Productions

>reviewed by adi soon

>date: 18 aug 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: alliance francaise auditorium
>rating: **

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Never before have I seen an interpretation that fully captures the essence of THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING ERNEST. After my experience with this version put up by NTU Speechwork Productions, my opinion still stands.

Pardon my attempt at being witty, perhaps the many fine witty lines of the evening had rubbed off on me. Getting down from the highbrow conventions of the witty script, these are words that perhaps Oscar Wilde would have written himself. I do not deny that I spent an enjoyable evening in the company of Ernest and his friends. Indeed, the show had its moments and it was a good choice of a strong play riddled with many gem-like lines.

However in the end it could not be denied that this was an amateur production, and perhaps in this light, some slack should be given for what was a courageous attempt. I came to the show expecting a night of side-splitting laughter which had been heightened by a previous experience of watching a BBC video recording of the play. Tonight however, laughter became a rare thing. My expectations were dashed by frustration as I found that the potential inherent in the script was not being realised.

>>'My expectations were dashed by frustration as I found that the potential inherent in the script was not being realised.'

Much of this I blame on the direction as many comic possibilities were not explored. It seemed that the actors did not understand what they were saying. Much of the delivery sounded like a recitation of the script without accompanying variation, texture and appropriate pauses. Many of the lines were simply thrown, or unemphasized because there was no understanding of their significance. Moments for example when a pause could have made the emphasis clearer were not allowed their chance. Lines that further required a deadpan delivery to highlight their incongruity were done naturalistically. Act 1 disappointed in this respect as initial exposition of the storyline wasn't as clear as it should have been. Besides by this time, one would have judged the play too wordy when however if done correctly, would not have been the case. Had the direction also specified faster pick ups, a more energetic variation in delivery would have produced a play that moved at a brisker pace without lapsing into moments when the energy was dissipated.

Perhaps an even greater disappointment came in the form of Hazni Aris who played the title character of Ernest/John Worthing. Playing the lead role, he should have had some measure of acting ability. Barring that, he should have at least displayed some sense of the stage and an effort to act. He did neither of these things. Prancing around stage with a smirk that was his only expression, he utterly butchered the character of Ernest. There could not have been a more cringe-worthy performance.

The only two actors who stood out were Angeline Soh as Gwendolyn and Shawn Chak as Algernon. Being more comfortable with the English inflexions peppered thoughout the script gave their delivery more life and texture. This translated itself into a greater freedom to explore the subtleties of their characters. It was only in these two actors that some measure of a correct interpretation was realised. Angeline Soh however was undoubtedly the star of the night. Surefooted in her delivery, she gave the greatest weight to her lines. And who could resist the charm that oozed from her self-righteous confidence. It was always a delight to watch her.

Visually, the play could have been improved with better costuming. Had more research been done into the clothes of the Victorian era, what would have ended up on stage would not have been what I saw tonight. Instead of elegantly cut suits and tuxedos, Algernon and Ernest were wearing costumes that looked like they were stolen from the set of an Aladdin movie. Perhaps dressing along the lines of the recent 'An Ideal Husband' would have lent more credibility to the play's insistence of historical accuracy.

In an interview with the directors I was led to understand the many constraints that the creative team faced in the production of this play. NTU it seems is facing a drought of creative talent as well as an appreciative theatre audience. Holding the fort in this rather inhospitable environment are the brave souls of Speechwork Productions. On that note, perhaps it would be better to conclude that the production did do the best it could and because of this I applaud the final effort.