The Importance of Being…Earnest?,  Swansea Grand Theatre

March 22, 2024 by


As I arrived at Swansea Grand Theatre, I did my good deed for the day by helping a couple who were struggling with the payment system in the nearby car park. It turns out they were going to the same show as me and, despite not being regular theatregoers, they’d always loved watching The Importance of Being Earnest and were looking forward to seeing it again.

I did my best to warn them that the show we were about to see might not quite be the Oscar Wilde farce that they were expecting. Two hours later, I could say with certainty that anyone hoping to watch a strictly coherent retelling of the ‘trivial comedy for serious people’ might be disappointed. On the other hand, anyone looking for an interactive comedy in which random members of the public play their part in the lion’s share of the laughs might be in luck.



Presented by Say It Again, Sorry? and written by Joshua King and Simon Paris, the ever-so- similarly titled The Importance of Being…Earnest? began life at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and, following a successful run, hit the road. The play itself kicks off conventionally enough, with Algernon (Ahsley Cavender) and Lane (Rhys Tees) performing the words of Wilde in a typically Wildean setting. Minutes later, however, things begin to unravel when a key cast member fails to materialise on stage. Cue an intervention from the director Simon (Josh Haberfield), the real star of the show who does well to juggle his roles as both ringmaster and firefighter, who plucks an unsuspecting victim from the audience to save the day and play the title character.

Panto fans and comedy show regulars will be familiar with the trope and have a pretty good idea of what to expect next. Good-natured humour at the expense of the embarrassed newcomer ensues, who is roundly applauded throughout by those cringing in their seats and thanking their lucky stars that it wasn’t them coaxed on stage. During the first act, the balance between scripted humour and audience participation was spot on, with some wonderful moments of comic timing from the ‘real’ actors. The plot might have gone out of the window, but it was still very funny and worked perfectly well as a comedy.


Sadly, when the same trick was repeated in the second act, it no longer felt like a novelty. More audience members on stage doesn’t necessarily mean more laughs, and as the original cast dropped like flies, they were replaced by an ever-growing roster of stand-ins. By the third act it was starting to wear a bit thin, which is a shame because all the elements were in place for a great show.

As Simon points out at the final curtain, as each performance uses a different set of theatregoers, no two shows are the same and each viewing will be unique. Of course, this also means that each performance has the potential to be a hit or a miss, and an overreliance on factors outside of the control of the creatives is a risk.


Ultimately, in the performance I witnessed, The Importance of Being…Earnest? worked best when members of the audience were used sparingly as an additional extra to the comedy, and not overrunning the stage.

Image:  Greg Velt

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