The Importance of Being Honest – Review by Frances Winston
Bewleys Café theatre @ Powerscourt townhouse centre
June 22nd – July 25th @ 1pm daily (Doors open 12.50pm)
Oscar Wilde is widely regarded as one of the wittiest and best writers who ever lived so it takes a brave person to willingly invite comparisons with him. Clearly Billie Trainor has plenty of moxy as here she offers us a glimpse into what happened to two of his most famous characters – one time love rivals Gwendolen and Cecily from The Importance of Being Earnest. Set in 1913 – twenty years after the events in Earnest – the two women meet up for an afternoon of reminiscing and revelation at Cecily’s home in the country.
Much has changed for the pair who are somewhat overwhelmed by the new modern world and struggling to find their place in it. While Cecily fills her days with whimsy and interpretive dance Gwendolen has thrown herself into life as a politician’s wife but is struggling to understand her purpose now that her children are getting older and her husband is away frequently.
While Gwendolen longs for a disappearing world in which women wore rigid corsetry and didn’t interfere in men’s business Cecily is trying to move with the times involving herself in the arts and discussions about the suffrage movement and women’s rights. As the pair veer between light-hearted banter to completely locking horns their decade’s long bond is evident but startling revelations and differences of opinions and belief look set to threaten their friendship forever.
Traynor herself tackles the role of Gwendolen here playing her as a stoic socialite snob while the far more free spirited Cecily is played by Deirdre Monaghan. Both women engage well and neither tries to upstage the other. Their back and forth is akin to a game of tennis as each tries to get one up on the other without allowing their mannerly facades to drop. While not all of the wit could be described as Wildean there are indeed some humorous moments and his influence is obvious. However, there is a lot of exposition where the audience is filled in on the events of Earnest which becomes slightly wearing to anyone with a knowledge of the tale (as you would assume most audience members have). They spend so much time ensuring that you know the back story that it detracts from learning what the two women have been up to.
This often feels more like a work independent of Earnest about two women of a certain age who are no longer sure of their place in the world and that in itself is a very engaging premise. By hanging it on one of Wilde’s most famous works Trainor may have done herself a slight disservice. That said this is an entertaining piece with some lovely moments. The big revelations are never as shocking as you’d expect and some of the lines don’t quite land but it is saved by the chemistry between the two actresses and the comic moments that do work.