• Thursday, March 23, 2023

Arts and Culture

Re-imagined Oscar Wilde play ‘with northern voices’ premieres online

VIRTUAL REALITY: Mina Anwar directs and stars in a new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (Photo credit: Lawrence Batley Theatre and The Dukes)

By: Lauren Codling


THE director of a re-imagined “northern” version of a classic Oscar Wilde play has spoken of the joy of being back on stage, more than a year after the Covid-19 pandemic forced many theatres to close.

First staged in 1895, farcical comedy The Importance of Being Earnest has been adapted for the modern day by writer Yasmeen Khan. Set in northern England with a primarily Asian cast, it follows the story of struggling actor Jamil and romcom star Algy who come together in pursuit of love and truth.

It was filmed over the course of four days in March and launched virtually on the play’s website last week. Director Mina Anwar said the experience of being back on stage with other creatives was a “great thing to be doing again”.

“Everyone was just so happy and joyful and grateful to be together to do the thing we do, and it was amazing,” she told Eastern Eye. “We all felt so supported by the producers, the theatres, the set builders. Everyone was just thankful to be able to be creative.”

Many theatres are on temporary hiatus due to coronavirus restrictions, with many productions taking place virtually instead. So it meant comedians Sindhu Vee and Hugh Dennis filmed cameos over Zoom specially for the production, which feature in the final cut.

Comedian Sindhu Vee appears in the play via Zoom

Prior to appearing on stage, the main cast rehearsed together over Zoom. Pandemic protocols were followed during filming, with requirements to wear masks and maintain social distancing. The crew found they had to consider the number of actors in a certain space to comply with social distancing regulations. Anwar said the experience was not too strange, as everyone was already accustomed to wearing masks in everyday life.

“You just get used to it,” the Lancashire-born star said. “We had to work out how many actors we needed per day and think about how certain sizes of the stage [would be used],” she added. “That was an interesting experience.”

Anwar, who has previously starred in Doctor Who and Coronation Street, is also acting in the play as Ms Begum, a modern version of Wilde’s Lady Bracknell. However, going between her two roles as director and actress was not particularly difficult, she said.

Having worked in the industry for three decades in a variety of roles across theatre, film and television, working on the lines and character came easily to her, Anwar revealed, but her “elaborate costume” triggered some laughs.

Mina Anwar (left) and Melanie Marshall in The Importance of Being Earnest

“My (Ms Begum) outfit is a very lovely leopard-print fringe jumpsuit and I had to wear it all the time, even while I was directing,” she said. “It looked like I had just rocked up very glamorously to work as a director in the theatre.”

Asked if she hoped the adaptation would be seen as inclusive and open to all audiences, Anwar said: “I hope that for everything I do, whatever it is, that it is considered inclusive and diverse.

“A Shakespeare or an Oscar Wilde play, or whatever people consider a classic, should be there for everyone, because those tales are universal. I never considered that it is only there for a certain audience – you create something for people to watch. “You don’t see many versions of (The Importance of Being Earnest) with northern voices, but I really hope that it appeals to everybody.”

The Importance of Being Earnest is available to stream now and will run until Tuesday, May 4. See importanceofbeingearnest.com for more

Eastern Eye

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