The Importance of Being Earnest has been loved by generations. Full of witty, flamboyant and outrageously immoral characters, the farce describes itself (ironically) as ‘A Trivial Comedy for Serious People’. For those who know the play, this description alongside the apparent solemnity of the title creates an image of Oscar Wilde chuckling behind his pen and paper. They are purposely so completely misleading.
Jamal Simon is currently directing SUTCo’s radio production of this melodramatic and characterful play. With theatres around the globe closed for the pandemic, Sheffield students are forging a new path in the shape of auditory theatre. Speaking on the new medium, Simon mused that “one thing that radio provides that other theatres don’t is the ability for anybody to be engaged and involved without fear of judgement based on look, shape or size” and as a result the production team have “had a lot of people apply for this who’ve never done a SUTCo and SUPAS show before”. The inclusive nature of radio extends to offering opportunity to listen to a wider audience: there are no restrictions on how many can sit in an audience and no financial means to enjoy the recordings.
The play itself, according to Simon, is “an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s original play about identity and our identity as the society that we live in.” It examines “whether we are allowed to be the people that we desire to be or whether we have to be how the world wants us to be” and it explores “the relationships that the world deems acceptable or not.”
Successfully presenting this message will be challenging in a medium without visual expression.
Simon spoke about the obstacles facing the cast and production team as they try to understand how “the journeys of the characters, how they [the actors] will voice that.” Fortunately, “the rehearsals are generally going well but the room for experimentation does not exist on the same plane as it does in person; in person you are physically moving around the space, connecting with actors physically”. Significant also is the shift in the type of rehearsal: on stage “there is more time; in two minutes so much can happen in a real theatre space, whereas here you spend two minutes trying to connect to the internet.”
Other challenges have presented themselves in the form of “trying to find ways to advertise the show… because we can only do it online; there is no chance of flyering or telling people outside of social media or Facebook”. However producer and publicist Mia Young noted the unforeseen silver linings and lessons of the pandemic as SUTCo works to “move towards a sustainable way of organising events”. In fact, editor Molly Clarke hoped that “even if it was post-pandemic, [radio] could be done in real life; it’s still a different experience for actors and everyone else involved”.
Despite these challenges, the production team has developed innovative ways for artistic expression and a transferral of ideas to the audience: “We’ve adapted the radio play to a modern setting and changed some of the genders of the characters” in order to “push the message that a lot of the themes and issues that are being discussed in the late 19th century are still valid today in the early 21st century… We have to really reconcile ourselves to that if we are to progress and become good people.”
‘The Importance of Being Somewhat Earnest’ has been released in three parts, with all recordings available via Soundcloud and posted on the SUTCo Facebook page.
Image Credits: SUTCo