If you go with an open mind to something new and fresh, it gives you a prestigeless, approachable and humorous evening, writes Vertex reviewer after seeing Umeå Theatre Company’s new play.

Umeå Theatre Company’s rendition of The Importance of Being Earnest premiered the 29th of November at Umeå University in Ljusgården, Lärarutbildningshuset. The adaptation promised to be a fresh and fun take on a well known classic. A classic some believe is better to be left untouched. Two men looking for love under false pretenses, which causes a load of trouble their way as they try to keep up the facade.

One is met by a warm welcoming from the company when entering through the doors. The locations of the restrooms and where to buy fika are pointed out by a very friendly host. And an actor from the play guides you to your seat. The spectator stand is half full by an audience that produces a soft murmur of voices before the ”curtain-up”. Figuratively speaking, since there is no curtain covering the stage. A backdrop in minty green surrounds the stage, creating a room furnished by a red velvet sofa and a beige armchair situated upstage.

The audience goes silent and a spotlight reveals Oscar Wilde himself. He is not only introducing the play, but also commenting on it throughout. One can see it as a butchering of a classical comedy, an addition that I myself was very apprehensive about. But warming up to the idea it showed itself to be a great addition. The character turns the play more accessible sine he becomes a self-distancing component. A component that would have, however, been welcome to occur more often but less frequently than in the beginning.

From time to time the play felt overacted and loud, you could feel some of the cast wanting to show you that they were ”really acting”. It was unclear as a member of the audience to know if the play wanted to give you a witty theatrical experience as a comedy or wanted to be a ”spex”, a type of farce that includes the audience throughout the whole play with on-the-nose jokes. The unclarity came from the fact that some of the characters were more convincing than others.

The original play itself demands extremely precise comedic timing, something that is very hard to do. And this rewrite has kept some of the original lines, but also modernized certain jokes. But in rewriting the play it robs some of the original’s texture and subtext. But as it is a modernization the decision to cut out or change jokes, that today would pass people by, was a wise choice.

It is very understandable why Erik Campano decided to rewrite the play. The original comedy is a creation by a genius. And it is sad that many people miss out on it. Adapting the play to a modern audience might even peak the interest in the least expected. And Umeå Theatre Company show that they have a lot of respect for the original play and the playwright himself. Oscar Wilde had not always been leading an easy life as a non heterosexual. And the company shows respect by partnering up with Amnesty to collect names to raise LGBTQ awareness.

So if you are looking for an authentic Oscar Wilde experience, with characters so convincing that they might as well be real, then maybe this is a play to pass. It would be more fair to say that this adaptation is directed at people still unaware, or unsure about classical theatre. But even if you are a die hard fan you should definitely reconsider watching this rewrite, it gives you something else. If you go with an open mind to something new and fresh, it gives you a prestigeless, approachable and humorous evening.

Julia Lidman
Photo: Samanta M. Knapič