I am currently doing my first theatre tour. It’s amazing.
The Importance of Being Earnest
The play we are doing is an adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde. It is adapted by having two women of colour, myself and actress Kudzanayi Chiwawa, doing ALL of the parts. We are doing multi-roles, multi-accents and taking the confusion of this play to a whole new level.
Earnest is a farcical play, it involves mistaken identity and basically, gaslighting – when you manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity. It is often delivered as a comedy but when you delve into the issues, it is very dark. There are matters of abandonment, child abuse, child neglect, domestic abuse, lying, bullying, manipulation, and also very real themes of being an outsider and questions on class, status and belonging.
We are being led by two incredible artists, Arne Pohlmeier (director) and Tonderai Munyevu (co-director and actor). Together, Arne and Tonderai are the Two Gents. This is the name of their theatre production company, which they have been running successfully for the past ten years. Two Gents “is a cross cultural touring theatre company based in London. [They] write, devise, develop, and perform challenging and unique work that draws equally on classic texts such as Shakespeare and our experience of migration and displacement”.
Rural Touring & Creative Opportunity
To have been given this opportunity, to do Earnest, as an artist is incredible. The trust to carry a show as 50% of the cast, there being only myself and Kudzanayi, and then to develop it with our own experiences as an underscore of the adaptation, is something I will forever be overwhelmingly thankful for. I have been challenged to an extreme level as a performer. We take the show to different venues and audiences and use audience interaction as part of the story-telling. This takes deep self courage, and great theatrical talent. Not to mention all the character development as we have over four characters each.
Earnest was written by Oscar Wilde at a time when to be homosexual in England was illegal. As a homosexual man, he was in the middle of trials, which led to a prison sentence, illness, and eventually his death. Incredibly, Wilde prophecies in the play through the lines of the character Jack Worthing: “my brother…my brother Earnest…he died…in Paris…of a severe chill” – ; and so were the facts of Oscar Wilde’s own death.
New Times, New Way
It feels aptly profound to be performing this play as two black women. Oscar Wilde was hiding, because of his sexuality, he was an outsider. Black women often hide in many different ways, from not showing our natural hair, to changing our tone or speech, in order to avoid discrimination. The unique challenges to survival (let alone thriving) that black women face due to the intersectionality of our gender and race, is not a new matter, but it is an on-going fight. This play is usually performed as a light comedy commenting on British manners and the upper classes. In presenting it ourselves, we challenge the play in a new context simply stepping onto the stage and saying “we own this”. It is the best feeling, and I feel, it respects the true spirit of the fight and struggle, and the hiding and pain that is within the text of the play as experienced by the author himself. I hope Oscar Wilde would commend us for it.
So far, our feedback from Earnest has been excellent. We have performed in churches, community centres and also theatres. Thanks to Applause Rural Touring who provide an ability for venues in Kent and Sussex to book theatre for their local communities including at discount rates, we have had full venues and engaged audiences. From some who have never heard the play, to others who know every line, we have been kept on our toes and also supported with standing ovations, laughter and curiosity.
Next Up: Tara Arts
We are going to be able to share the work in London for a whole three weeks at Tara Arts Theatre in spring of 2019. More news to follow when that rolls around, and in the meantime, we will be continuing to delve to the heart and soul of Earnest, what it means to us, to society today, and where we can go next with it.