The Importance of Being Earnest at the CC Amstel Theatre, Amsterdam

Off the back of their sell out show last year, the QETC – Queen’s  English Theatre – are back by “popular demand” with their no apologies, camp-as-you-like performance of The Importance of Being Earnest.

Like the year before, the host of the sought after show is the CC Amstel, a member of the Amsterdam OBA consortium. Still appearing ‘new’, the 154 seat theatre provided a warmly lit and welcoming backdrop to arriving guests. The bar area was packed out before the show with a healthy mix of Dutch locals, English speakers and multi-national expats. Always a good sign of things to come.

The first act opened in a sauna – Q. Cumbers Sauna to be precise. Bright lights, thumping disco beats and tiny towels are memorably (and fondly) imprinted on my memory; the barely dressed male cast were – to be totally honest – dancing ridiculously. Much to the audience’s amusement, these surprising moments of hilarity popped up throughout the play, appearing like savvy, sparkling creations and were truly entertaining.  Laughing in all the right places, and almost on cue, it felt like a fair testament to the well delivered lines and brilliantly performing cast, who worked like a well-oiled motor.

A few stand-out performances seem noteworthy. First of all, Keith Day, as Algernon Moncrieff, stood out for me. As a passionate actor, he was totally involved as a lead role – he delivered his character with ease ensuring we picked up on his suitably satirical lines, often laden with clever sub-texts; I was also left with no doubts that he is a sure hit at a karaoke night! Moreover, Benjamin Keaton seemed comfortable in his casting as the co-lead in the role of Jack Worthing. He played a wonderful cat and mouse game of wits over the destinies of characters Gabriel and Cecil with his antagonist – the terrifying yet wonderful – Aunt Bracknell. Notably this was another stand-out performance: an expertly performed role, and with an astounding articulation of lines and on-point delivery, came from the award winning (Feats Festival) and experienced actor Brian André. 

Directed by Mark Winstanley, he has done it again! One can detect his strong sense of humour and skill in creating this crafted and contemporary version. Supported by a strong team of choreographers, costume and stage design, music and lighting, there was a real sense of ‘family’ in the way the whole show came together on the night.

The leading roles are taken by men – challenging the original 1895 conception. So the romantic comedy plays out between Earnest (Jack) and Gabriel, and Algernon (or Algy – at it is emblazoned on the back of his sauna dressing gown in emerald green) and Cecil. Gabriel, played by James Johnson, had an abundance of energy and his playfulness really brought this little firecracker of a character to life. The nod to the original Wilde text (with a modern twist of course, darling!) offered modern humorous exchanges without taking away from the original artistry. In the denouement we were left in a state of silenced shock as homage was paid to the suffering genius, Oscar Wilde. Not an ending I was expecting.

With my comp ticket to the opening night, I felt privileged to have seen this fantastic romp of false identities, marriage disasters and contemporary witticisms. Is it any wonder then, that earlier in the week it was rumoured – through the theatre grapevine – that the Thursday performance is to be filmed live, as part of a Dutch Oscar Wilde TV documentary. If there are any tickets left, as I am certain this will be a sell-out show, you’ll want to get your hands on one. But perhaps, a word of warning: this is not for the stiff upper lip, genre-defining audience member. QETC’s show breaks down barriers in more ways than one. And I, for one, would truly recommend it.  Rose Fawbert Mills   6th November 2019