In this time of doom and gloom, we could all use a laugh. Which is why director Calum Moore and producer Rowan MacCaskill have chosen The Importance of Being Ernest for their latest SUDS show. It is a dramatic leap from their last play, The Crucible, performed in April 2017.
“Yes,” laughs Rowan, “SUDS like to jump between the heavy and the comedy.”
Oscar Wilde’s infamous play is a familiar favourite for Calum. He elaborates:
“It’s very, very funny, it cracks me up and personally, I think it’s relevant because there’s a lot of sh*t going on and I think that having a laugh and being able to escape into this universe which is silly, cleverly silly, is much needed.”
Rowan links the need for a laugh to Wilde’s own time of personal trouble and political uncertainty.
“Instead of tackling issues like exploitation and the British Empire head-on, Wilde just wrote a satire about the society he lived in. He just wanted to make people laugh.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the play, the protagonist Jack Worthing is a respected and upstanding member of his Hertfordshire community. However, for years Jack has also taken on the double identity of an imaginary brother called Earnest to indulge in irresponsible pleasures during his visits to London.
Jack comes clean to close friend Algernon (who has known him as Earnest) when suspicions are aroused, and he confesses his love for Algernon’s cousin Gwendolen Fairfax, who although returning his affections, obsesses over the name Earnest and will not marry a man of any other name.
So what can the audience expect from the play? ‘A lot of laughs’ says Calum ‘and a lot of inappropriate eating.’ One of the motifs of the Importance of Being Earnest is eating and SUDS actors are dedicated pros with no invisible munching.
Rowan says, “As far as we are aware, we are the first SUDS production during our time at university, and a significant time before, that had a specific prop direction for a tray of muffins per night.”
Calum adds “We actually had to stage a muffin workshop for Matthew Crawford, playing Algernon, so he could get used to eating and speaking at the same time.
“We had to experiment to see how many muffins we could put on a plate to eat in a space of time and how clear he is with a certain number of muffins in his mouth.”
As the play has been performed for over 120 years, it can be difficult to think of ways to keep the play fresh and make it SUDS’ own. Calum and Rowan have tackled this by making the roles of Lane (Algernon’s servant) and Merriman (Jack’s butler) into one, so that like Jack and Earnest, Merriman has the alter-ego of Lane.
Rowan says, “We have utilised the great text we have been given as much as possible, but we are also doing our very best to read between the lines and bring something a bit fresh and different.”
He has been working towards his producer role in SUDS by being an assistant director for 11 shows at a performing arts festival in America he visits every year. This will be Calum’s second directorial role after his production of August: Osage County in February 2016, which was given a rave review by Brig.
According to Calum, the key to the success of a good show is the team behind it. He says: “Knowing what SUDS can do and knowing what they’re capable of is huge.
“Most of my job as a director has been organising makeup, sets, music etc., whereas before Callum Downs, my producer at the time, and I did a lot of it ourselves and that was stressful as hell.
“So the reason this is different is because I’ve been very lucky to have Rowan and a team behind us, willing to support us through and through, so that we can do much more. And ultimately, I think the quality of the show will come through that as a result.”
The Importance of Being Earnest will take place on Sunday 15 October at 7 pm and Monday 16 October 2 pm and 7 pm. Tickets are available through Macrobert’s website http://macrobertartscentre.org/event/suds-the-importance-of-being-earnest/.