The Malta Independent 19 January 2020, Sunday

A theatrical glimpse into society past

Tuesday, 14 January 2020, 11:17 Last update: about 4 days ago
Michela Farrugia (Cecily) and Edward Caruana Galizia (Algernon)
Michela Farrugia (Cecily) and Edward Caruana Galizia (Algernon)

Christmas is firmly behind us and the cultural calendar is now very much back on track, with a slew of new productions set to be staged in 2020. January's theatrical must-see is doubtlessly MADC and Teatru Manoel's co-production of Oscar Wilde's classic masterpiece, The importance of being Earnest. This witty comedy sees its main protagonists invent fictitious alter-egos to escape the rigours of Victorian society, only to have to face the consequences. It is at once a farcical piece of theatre and a sharp commentary of the social mores of its time.

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The play boasts a stellar cast, including Davide Tucci, Edward Caruana Galizia, Maxine Aquilina, Michela Farrugia, Marylu Coppini, Isabel Warrington, Michael Mangion, Martin Azzopardi and Edward Thorpe, under the direction of Malcolm Galea.

Caruana Galizia plays the part of Algernon Moncrieff. "He is a highly intelligent and highly privileged young man," says the actor of his character. "He's very pragmatic in how he views society around him. While many of us remain baffled by the hypocrisy of society and its conventions, Algernon glides through any situation unfazed, making sound sense of it all in his own way. He is very much a product of his time and environment. Life is a pleasure cruise for him and he is intent on enjoying it right up to the very last day." 

Algernon's love interest is the young Cecily Cardew, played by Farrugia. "Cecily is innocent yet witty, and her imaginative capacity makes her stand out among her peers. Having been brought up in a sheltered environment by her guardian Jack Worthing, she has developed a fascination with wickedness, leading her to invent a romance with Jack's 'brother' Ernest'. This fantasy, coupled with her curiosity and imagination, drives Cecily; however her laid back and cool attitude contrasts with her eagerness, making her a great character to watch."

Caruana Galizia is intrigued by Algernon. "Many of the characters I have played have been against the social conventions of their time," he says. "Algernon is very much the opposite. He seems to understand the conventions - in all their contradictions - perfectly well, and uses them to navigate any situation he finds himself in. It is curious that it is through a character that embraces such rigid social conventions that Wilde is able to criticise society through humour, rather than a dramatic and provocative story."

"Oscar Wilde's characters feel very over the top initially, so the process of giving them credibility has been very interesting," continues Farrugia. "Cecily is very childish in her actions, but she seems to be a lot older than her age when it comes to her wit. This contrast is very fun to play."

Both Caruana Galizia and Farrugia agree that Wilde's skilled, nuanced and witty writing play a major role in the enduring popularity of Earnest. "I love the way the characters are brutally honest about how they feel towards one another and other people," observes Caruana Galizia. "It's like the Dowager Countess of Grantham in Downton Abbey, except that every character in the play is like her - biting honesty and nonchalance towards the real reasons for actions and comments. It gets me every time!"

On her part, Farrugia opines that the play is still extremely relevant and funny. "It comments on problems and ironies that we experience today, while its humour and absurdities point out very serious moral issues that we are still discussing. The plot is filled with twists and turns that keep an audience on the edge of their seats.

"Meanwhile, the play's sub-title - 'a trivial comedy for serious people' - highlights the absurdity that awaits, while describing a need to be truthful. It has a good look at the moral societal and personal battles that we face and takes them with a pinch of salt."

The importance of being Earnest will be performed at Teatru Manoel on 31 January and 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9 February. Classification 12+.

Bookings on 2124 6389 or via www.teatrumanoel.mt


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