Going Wilde in Westville

A scene from Westville Theatre Club’s production of The Importance of Being Earnest, which runs in Durban until Saturday, October 5. From left are Devon Grant-Hayes MacKenzie, Jacquie van Belkum, Danielle De Chazal, Derek Griffin, Jill Sysum, Maya Zozulya, Daniel Oosthuizen, TBanele Khomo and Tyrone O’Neill.

Stage: The Importance of Being Earnest – Westville Theatre Club, St James Avenue, Durban
(alongside the municipal swimming pool)


COMMUNITY theatre bravely and commendably lives on in Durban through the members of the Westville Theatre Club which, in spite of increasingly tough times for the arts, continues to soldier on with a wide variety of non-professional drama and musical offerings. Kudos to all for that!

The club, established in 1966 and which presents plays and revues in its quaint little building alongside the Westville public swimming pool, is now presenting The Importance of Being Earnest, Oscar Wilde’s “trivial comedy for serious people”, to paraphrase one review from the 19th century.

Directed by Maya Zozulya, the Westville Theatre Club’s winner of the Best Director Award in its One Act Play Festival earlier this year, the farcical comedy opened on September 26 and, following the matinee I attended on Sunday (September 29), has final performances at 7.30 nightly from Wednesday to Saturday, October 2 to 5.

Tyrone O’Neill (left) and Devon Grant-Hayes MacKenzie in The Importance of Being Earnest.

First performed in London in 1895 and subsequently transferred to the big screen in films released in 1952, 1992 and 2002, The Importance of Being Earnest is a delicious treat that is often revived globally. And for good reason – it is a lighthearted romp that deftly nudges and winks at the traditions and social customs of the Victorian era while bristling with the zing of Wilde’s sharp wit and clever wordplay.

Wilde, who gave the world nine plays, including the popular Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Woman of No Importance and An Ideal Husband, is on very fine form with The Importance of Being Earnest, which revolves around courtship, class and confusion.

The comedy, set in London, centres on two young bachelors and longtime pals: the enigmatic John ‘Jack’ Worthing (Banele Khomo, who projects well) and an ever-hungry Algernon ‘Algy’ Moncrieff (Daniel Oosthuizen, who is relaxed in the role but has a wandering accent and stumbled with his lines a few times during the performance I attended).

In a bid to escape dull or intolerable social responsibilities, both men have created alter egos, but they find themselves being tripped up with their double identities when they set out to woo women. They are blonde Danielle De Chazel as Cecily Cardew and this production’s director, Maya Zozulya, as rosy-cheeked Gwendolen Fairfax – both of whom, rather conveniently and most incongruously, say they can fall only for men named Ernest.

Our two ‘Ernests’ struggle to keep up with the criss-crossings and complications of their convoluted stories and become entangled in a web of deception, disguise and misadventure, all of which builds to a highly improbable but amusing climax that wraps up all loose ends.

Among this production’s players are two standouts in Jill Sysem, as Algernon’s crusty and conniving aunt, Lady Bracknell, who gets all the best lines; and, in a less showy role, Derek Griffin, as a ruddy, slightly doddery clergyman, who takes a shine to Cecily’s governess, Miss Prism (Jacquie van Belkum).

Completing the cast, playing servants who come and go with little to say, are Tyrone O’Neill as manservant Lane and Devon Grant-Hayes MacKenzie as butler Merriman.

The cast of Westville Theatre Club’s The Importance of Being Earnest.

Understandably for a non-professional production, budget constraints have necessitated modest costuming and décor. The set essentially comprises couches and other bits of furniture and, over three acts, the changing of panels which depict a fireplace, a bookcase, pictures on a wall, a garden and a window with drapes. But it is all sufficiently effective.

Notwithstanding some wooden moments, a few fluffed lines and a curious mix of accents, most of it forgiveable for an amateur production, the team does a more than adequate job.

Certainly most at Sunday’s near-capacity audience seemed to enjoy the fun of this classic in a cosy little venue that seats about 90 at long tables and encourages patrons to take along their own drinks and eats.

Tickets for the play cost R100 each (R90 each if you book a table for eight) and can be booked by phoning Dorothy on 083 776 1754 (after hours) or mail dorothyannoneill@gmail.com

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