This was the second 3 Bugs production I saw all year in the Guild. Staged in the Dance Studio (underground), the crew did very well to create the world of a bachelor’s flat and later country house. Audience members were kindly greeted by Algernon’s manservant, Lane (Charles Michael), and this immediately told me that there was no definite divide between us and the stage. Lane then saw to all the furniture in the room, puffing up the cushion and straightening the crockery he had laid out. This, along with our close proximity to the acting space, created the impression that we were like flies on the wall spying on the characters’ lives.
Subtle changes in the text (presumably led by director Ella Wright) fitted the more modern time in which the production was set. Rather than playing some classical piano tune, Algernon or ‘Algy’ (Tom Garrett) glided in wearing large headphones and singing an Alexandra Burke hit. His slow yet frenetic quality of movement as he grabbed Lane by the shoulders started to suggest the character’s reckless and decadent lifestyle. Less of the ‘dandy’ whom we are used to seeing in the original play, he evoked a sense of independence and tough masculinity. Jack (Joe Bonfield), who is a little smarter than Algy in appearance but just as foolish in his ways, quarrelled over his recently found wallet as opposed to a cigarette case in the original. Nonetheless, the production team made use of the term ‘Bunburying’ which is one of Algy’s prime motivations. Although the two men (unaware of their relation to one another) sat far apart as Jack confessed his own double life, they seemed very alike in character, teasing and rebuking each other for being ‘ungentlemanly’ or seeking married life.
In essence, Lady Bracknell (played in drag by Fionn Creber) and her daughter Gwendolen (Rae Doyle) gave off the same ‘vibrations’ as each other. Both actors managed to convey their shallow and arrogant desires. Gwendolen, entranced only by the name Jack gives to his alter-ego (Ernest), had an airy and seductive tone to her voice. Doyle did especially well when expressing her grief after Bracknell rejects any kind of marriage proposal. Creber successfully portrayed the strands of Bracknell’s character that makes her the matriarch that she is; when scrutinising Jack’s political views and material wealth, the actor made a whining sound through his throat to express concern and disappointment.
Comedy was enhanced through several musical interludes during scene changes. These included Miss Prism (Amber Gollay) pleading to be taken to church (the song by Hosier) by Reverend Chasuble (Charlie Harris). The interaction between these two characters contained hints of a second, unusual personality they had, one that strayed away from high moral standards. The Reverend himself, who put on a strong and booming Irish accent, hesitated and had to tread carefully after he delivered the line: ‘I would hang upon [Miss Prism’s] lips.’
Cecily (Jack’s ward played by Lauren Foreman) wore a floral summer dress and displayed a fine contrast between her childlike innocence and bad-temper, particularly when introducing Algy (lavishly disguised as Ernest) to her very bitter Uncle Jack. Even when drenched with water by Harris’ Chasuble when discussing arrangements for the christening, this did not seem to affect Bonfield’s Jack, clearly invested in the right to have his name changed in order to satisfy Gwendolen.
A fifteen-minute interval came between Act Two and Three. I thought this might have come earlier, but the second half did not feel a great deal shorter than the first. Additionally, this was the most appropriate time to have an interval after the three assistant stage managers, whilst jiving to The Boy Does Nothing (ridiculing Algy’s idleness), began to mop away the mess left from the two brothers’ aggressive muffin fight. After a set change leading into Act Three, there were moments towards the end when the actors came very close to members of the audience sitting by the walkways, for example when Bracknell confronted Prism about the misplaced handbag. These entrance/exit points (one of which went through the seating bank) allowed those performing to move seamlessly between the performance space and backstage, again generating a sense of audience inclusivity in a play that many are familiar with.
A fresh version of Wilde’s comedy that contains original flourishes of humour an audience of today can identify with.