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UVic’s Phoenix Theatre puts a historical drag twist on Earnest

The Importance of Being Earnest runs Nov. 9 to 25
Oscar Wilde’s comic masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest takes the stage at UVic for the first time starting Nov. 8. (Phoenix Theatre/Facebook)

As Oscar Wilde’s comic masterpiece The Importance of Being Earnest takes the stage at the University of Victoria for the first time, the classic breaks free from tradition.

“In this reimagining, we delve into the subtext of Wilde’s work, unveiling its hidden layers and the remarkable queerness that underscores the characters’ interactions. Traditionally, productions of The Importance of Being Earnest have often been accompanied by heavy curtains, floral wallpaper, and lace doilies, drawing inspiration from received ideas about the late Victorian period. However, Wilde’s plays have the potential to illuminate and challenge conventional associations and usher audiences into a dramatic universe that embraces melodrama, transgressive queerness of the music hall, secret codes, hidden symbols, double entendres, and delightful paradoxes,” director Alistair Newton said in a news release.

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The Importance of Being Earnest is a satirical comedy that explores the absurdities of social conventions and the complexities of mistaken identities. Set in the elegant society of 19th-century England, the story follows bachelors John Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff as they lead double lives to escape responsibilities.

As they vie for the affection of two ladies their lies unravel, leading to hilarious consequences.

“From Shakespearian boy players in Elizabethan London, to the dame in a Christmas panto, through the sketches of Monty Python and pop stars like Boy George and Marilyn, drag has always been a mainstay of British popular culture. In this production, I have added two historical drag artistes (Lady Stella Clinton and Vesta Tilley) who achieved fame in Wilde’s cultural milieu. I have tried to stay true to Wilde in both his populism and his subversion; as Gilbert says to Ernest in Wilde’s The Critic as Artist: ‘The one duty we owe to history is to re-write it,’” Newton said.

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Newton, an alumnus of the Directors’ Lab of Lincoln Centre Theater, is a director of theatre and opera, as well as a dramaturge, educator, and playwright. They hold a BFA from UVic, an MFA through Canadian Stage and York University’s joint program in stage direction, and have created productions for George Brown College, Toronto Metropolitan University, and Dalhousie University.

Phoenix Theatre’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest is on stage Nov. 9 to 25.

It features both live and streamed performances. Tickets range from $17 to $32 and are available at the box office in person or by calling 250-721-8000.

About the Author: Oak Bay News Staff

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