University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

In Oscar Wilde's classic comedy, the worries of life are taken in like a nice platter of old English cucumber sandwiches. So dig in, while supplies last!

Did you ever wonder what it would be like, if you had a double? A sort of stand-in who could be your excuse in order to avoid all of life’s tediousness and triviality, while conveniently covering up all your shortcomings?

Well, then you might very well be the sort of person Oscar Wilde was thinking of in his immortal play, The Importance of Being Earnest.

Wilde now retakes the stage at Krudttønden (”the Powder-Keg”) at Østerbro, where the Copenhagen Theatre Circle hosts performances through the month of April.

Here is a little taste of what you can expect:

Lights, sound – action!

When the dimness of the small theatre room gives way to the brightness of the stage lights, you immediately find yourself in a typical sitting room of Victorian England complete with chaise longue, tea table and fireplace.

Here the shenanigans begin, as Jack and Algeron, two well-off playboys, amidst their usual sharp-witted banter discover that both of them have been playing a peculiar game for a long time: Bunburying!

In plain terms, this means pretending to be someone you’re not. You see, both of the boys are in love with a girl who seems to them the pinnacle of perfection. And since neither Jack nor Algernon can deny that they’re not good enough for their beloved’s hand in marriage, they think their new game will prove the final solution to all their woes, being ”Ernest in town and Jack in the country.”

They, of course, turn out to be completely wrong!

Know thyself!

”Tell me your name, and I’ll tell you who you are,” as the famous saying goes. And this is actually the only thing that Gwendolen and Cecily demand from their favourite suitors to accept them as their husbands. However, even this simple task proves to be completely insuperable for both Jack and Algernon.

They realize that it is Ernest, their fictionalized character, who exerts the real attractive power on the girls. Consequently, they want so badly to be Ernest that they simply forget the importance of being – earnest.

Confused? Well, join in the laughter! Confusing paradoxes are all part of the plot and make up much of the merriment offered for the audience in this light-footed romantic comedy.

The demanding pen of Wilde

Packed as it is with punch-lines and double-entendres, Wilde’s tightly written script requires something of a performance from cast as well as director. One has to pair the comical Victorian rigidity with the writer’s characteristic verbal zing.

And I must say that Jens Blegaa with his competent cast of players has achieved just that. All are offering the maximum of what one could expect from a real-time performance of the play. It was written, we should remember, for the stage, and never relied on the cinematic cutting techniques, which audiences today are (all too) familiar with.

Consequently, at Krudttønden we rediscover all the lovable characters ”up close” in their witty affronts and rebuttals played out with the characteristic stiff upper lip. Especially the silly, yet very matter-of-fact Lady Bracknell does this rather amusingly, and Claire Clausen’s version of her doesn’t fall short of other representations, such as the somewhat sterner Lady of the 1952 cinematic staging of the play.

Theme relevant as ever

The crux of Wilde’s plot shows us in more than one way why his play is still immortal. The theme couldn’t be more relevant. Even though nearly 120 years have passed since the play’s original premiere, society still seems to be all about presenting a good image rather than speaking the plain truth; something one could profitably reflect on every now and then.

However, when we want to be entertained, as Wilde well knew, the truth can often be rather troublesome. As Algernon aptly puts it:

Algernon:  The truth is rarely pure and never simple. Modern life would be very tedious if it were either, and modern literature a complete impossibility! (Act I)

So there you have it. It only remains for us to remind you that the performance runs on limited dates, so get your tickets while they last!

Stay in the know about news and events happening in Copenhagen by signing up for the University Post’s weekly newsletter here.