Interviews

The Importance of Being Earnest Director Stephen Wrentmore on Adapting Oscar Wilde

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How does your adaptation differ from others, such as the film with Colin Firth? It's very much in the spirit of Oscar Wilde -- it's artful and artistic... It's got a real sense of playfulness about it.... I haven't changed any words of the Oscar Wilde. The words are the words are the words and you go to see Oscar Wilde because he's a master of language. It can't be compared with a film because it can move location. The big difference I think I have is that I'm not trying to recreate the Victorian drawing world.

Did you set the play in different era other than Victorian England? Sort of. I have an agenda in my work, particularly when you're looking at a classic play, you have to use the period to inform the play but you also have to make it feel and sit comfortably with a contemporary audience. I'm not very interested in setting theatre in naturalistic worlds. Theater isn't naturalistic so trying to recreate naturalism is an act of extreme folly.

How do you think a satire of Victorian ideals and the concept of triviality applies to today? I think it does. Some of the political jokes fall by the wayside. I think one of the things that is really successful in this play is one of the things Lady Bracknell constantly jokes about age-- I just love the idea that it's always something we're concerned about.

The comedy and plot twists make for a great experience for first-time viewers of this play, but what do you think your production adds for people who are more well-versed in this play specifically or Oscar Wilde in general? My encounters with Wilde -- I've seen all of his plays now and even when a production is not one of my favorites, you can't escape the sheer pleasure of being in the company of a man who understands language so perfectly as him. The pleasure of just letting the words wash over you will be present in this. One of the things that happens when you're an aficionado and you're in the company of great actors who really get what they're saying, it's so rewarding--it's so refreshing.

What was the most difficult part of bringing this play to life? There were two things. The first is the English have an innate understanding of class and have used and exploited class both as a weapon and a defense for centuries and I don't have to navigate that with English actors. The second is language. If it feels like you have to work hard to say these things then it spoils the magic. The analogy I drew for the actors is when you go to the ballet, you don't want to see the ballerina sweat. You don't want to know how hard it is to stand on pointe. You want her to look elegant and graceful and I think the same it true for Wilde's language.

What did you use for your music in the play? I've mixed very contemporary music and themes you might know with classics you probably don't know. I've completely fallen in love with this one little piano piece called "Musette" by Bach in D Minor. There's an element of modernity and also an element of classical music, and I think that's real a statement on how this production works.

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Heather Hoch is a music, food, and arts writer based in Tucson. She enjoys soup, scotch, Electric Light Orchestra, and walking her dog, Frodo.
Contact: Heather Hoch