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The Importance of Being Wasted - Act React (Fringe World 2024)

Reviewed by Paul Treasure


There has been a fad of doing drunk performances of shows for a couple of years now. Take a classic well-known piece, get some number of cast members drunk, and watch the chaos ensue. Quite often it is Shakespeare, but now, in an inspired choice, Brisbane-based company Act React have given Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest the treatment. One of the greatest comedies ever written, with some of the wittiest dialogue, with the added danger of a couple of cast embers being drunk. What could go wrong?

In the performance I attended, the nominated drunk actors were the ones playing Gwendolen and Cecily. An announcement brimming with potential excitement for anyone familiar with the play. Gwendolen was much more feisty and raunchy than normally played, especially in the proposal scene. Cecily very quickly became more and more like Catherine Tate’s Lauren Cooper, and I half expected an “Am I bovvered?” to come forth. This was a Cecily that would have been hilarious and interesting to watch even in a sober performance. When the inevitable happened and the two appeared onstage for the great Act 2 catfight, magic was made. Here were two talented actors, with some of the most famously venomous lines put to print, but without the constraint of having to play Victorian decorum and allowed to just let loose. The two actors became animals with ferocity and venom, circling each other like tigers ready to strike. Until strike they did, literally, with brilliantly ad-libbed insults and actual hair-pulling. This revelatory piece of acting finally gave Wilde fans the opportunity to see the scene that is happening within the minds of the two characters at this point.

With any of these drunk acting shows, the point is to let the drunk actors provide the chaos, and a lot of the comedy comes from the rest of the actors acting their hearts out trying to maintain the show at an even keel, or letting go and riding the wave. In this production, unfortunately, the rest of the actors seemed to want to get in on the action. Some of the business from the sober actors used to solicit more laughs from the audience often came across as mere upstaging, Had this business been used while any of these actors were the nominated drunk performers, they may have come across as clever, but instead they just came across as amateurish, and actually detracted from the comedy. Sober players dropping lines while drunk players are onstage because they are flustered is one thing, sober players fluffing famous lines while there are no drunk players onstage is another thing entirely. The Importance of Being Earnest is genuinely one of the wittiest plays ever written, and it was just a shame to see the joy sucked out of the play when there were no drunk actors onstage.

Ultimately this show was very much a show of two widely differing parts: the sober part – dull, uninspiring, and amateurish, even with such a brilliant script; and the drunk part – brilliant, chaotic, edge-of-the-seat excitement. I can only encourage this troupe to grab the good that they obviously have and capitalize on it… maybe rather than designating a couple of drunk actors, maybe they should all get drunk and designate a sober one instead. Ultimately, this was a show of brilliant highlights in an otherwise bland and unconvincing narrative.

The cast of The Importance of Being Wasted. Promotional image provided.

Reviewer note: Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.


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