UBC Player’s Club made an earnest attempt

The Dorothy Somerset Studio (DSS), a cozy blackbox theatre, was modestly set for the UBC Players Club’s SNL-ified rendition of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. The play ran at 7 p.m. from Tuesday, November 15 — Saturday, November 19, selling out from Thursday to Saturday.

The Importance of Being Earnest is a Victorian English comedy that satires the 19th-century English elite and is one of Wilde’s best-known works. For those who weren’t forced to read it in English class, here's a brief synopsis. The play centres on two unmarried members of the English nobility, John Worthing (Tristen Foy) and Algernon Moncrief (Silken Lawson). Basically, both pretend to be a fake guy named “Ernest '' to avoid social situations but then fall in love with women, Gwendolen Fairfax and Cecily Cardew, who love the men only because they are allegedly named Ernest.

“I decided that I would set [the play] in the Victorian era we explore like we explore that time, but from a contemporary lens and with a contemporary point of view,” said director Sophia Saugstad. Since the play was set through a contemporary lens, Saugstad did not care about historical accuracy, which was clear in how the production played with gender, roles, acting and set dressing.

The DSS creates an intimate setting that engagingly puts the audience and cast on the same level. Typically this allows theatre actors to move more subtly, as there is no need to play for the nosebleeds seats in the back. However, Saugstad chose to have the actors play large, with exaggerated voices and expressions — think improv or SNL

Algernon is usually played by a man. However, Saugstad chose to change Algernon's gender from a man to a woman because she thought many of Algernon’s lines about women, if said by a man, would offend a contemporary audience. Saugstad said this was her hardest choice, but it mostly had no impact on the play. We all just accepted that it was set in a pro-lesbian version of the Victorian era.

Saugstad also said that she chose to have the actors do British accents because “it is fun to do a British accent, and I think the British accents add to the ridiculousness of the piece.”

However, the majority of the cast could not do British accents.

In Act Two, the garden set began to fall apart, which, as was put to me by my companion to the play, “was an apt description for the play as a whole.” The falling apart of the set was made worse as half the cast chose to respond in character, while the other half ignored it. Overall the actors had fun with the show — it was just a little rough around the edges.

“I hope that they can take away inspiration that old plays can still be fun to do,” said Saugstad. “I hope what people enjoy about it is just relating to the ridiculous extent we'll go [to] for love and also for social status.”