The Lyric Theatre invited bloggers, journalist and twitterholics to a sneak peek at rehearsals for The Importance of Being Earnest. It was the idea of director Graham McLaren who had run a similar open-door project as part of his day job at the National Theatre of Scotland.
Catching the cast mid-rehearsal – with Melody Grove’s Gwendolen holding forth on the virtues of Ernests everywhere – felt entertainingly like a command performance. The theatre was mostly empty, bloggers don’t take up much room, and everyone had their pick of seats.
Patrick Moy and Grove are ridiculously fun as Ernest (really Jack) and the name-obsessed object of his affections. They are clearly enjoying themselves nearly as much as the giggling audience as they vamp, declaim and panic their way across the gorgeous, starkly white neo-classical set.
Grove's Gwendolen seems a breathless moment from pouncing on the hapless Jack/Ernest, bosom heaving and eyes flashing as she assures him that 'even before we met, I was far from indifferent to you'. Meanwhile Moy veers from manfully declaring to love, to weakly attempting to defend the honour of the name 'Jack'.
‘We’ve literally had tears in our eyes every day from laughter,’ McLaren says. ’We’ve been governed entirely by what I and the rest of the company think is funny. ‘
Funny is actually something of a departure for bare-foot, bohemian-haired Scot. As associate director of the National Theatre of Scotland he is best known for his dark tragedies ‘where everyone ends up dead’, so what attracted him to The Importance of Being Earnest?
‘My wife is from here and Belfast is somewhere I like to be,’ McLaren says. ‘So when my friend Richard Croxford asked if I would be interested in directing arguably the funniest play in the English language how could I refuse?’
So far McLaren is delighted with how well the play has come together. ‘Well, I am a genius,’ he wisecracks. The biggest challenge was putting together the cast.
‘The worst bit about my job is casting, finding actors. Everything is so reliant on getting the right company together,’ he says. ‘That’s not only getting the best actors, but it’s people that play well as a team, because they’ll be together for a couple of months all day and all night. They really have to get on. Once that is done, making it and putting it on stage – those are the fun bits. Until the audience arrive and start judging it, then it’s stressful again.’
One member of the impromptu audience, at least, gave the play top marks. Canadian Siobhan O’Malley, the great-niece of Lyric Theatre founder Mary O’Malley, was visiting the theatre for the first time. She was thrilled that the Twitter invitation meant she also got to see something performed on stage there, particularly since she had just finished studying The Importance of Being Earnest at Drama School.
‘I love the play,’ she said, adding that she hoped to be able to get tickets for the full perfomance ‘I’d love to act here myself – one day!’
McLaren notes that so far the preview audiences have laughed at the play and that the cast and crew have laughed making it. Now he just has to hope for the best on opening night.
So, don’t miss the chance to see this ‘trivial comedy for serious people’ at the Lyric Theatre. Even if you aren’t all that serious.
The Importance of Being Earnest is at the Lyric Theatre until July 7.