PHOTOGRAPHY BY Emma Griffiths with permission for Varsity

Absurdity, decadence, and eccentricity: these were, it seems, the requirements on Manon Harvey’s checklist for directing The Importance of Being Earnest. “For me, the theme of early 2000s Southern California truly reflects what Oscar Wilde was trying to understand and portray through his play,” begins Manon. Putting a modern spin on a Victorian classic, Manon continued, they found “the same hypocrisy and ridiculousness” present in Wilde’s play as they did “in programmes such as Keeping up with the Kardashians, where everything that happens seems slightly bizarre, shallow and materialistic”(even though they described themselves as “a massive fan of KUWTK”).

They felt like “these early 2000’s reality TV shows are something that we laugh at because of how far removed these people seem to be from real life and real problems,” and claims this “was the same point being made in The Importance of Being Earnest, which is why [they] believe this modern spin is perfect for the play.” Manon describes their role as Director as “super hands-on, with working on blocking and staging the entire play, as well as liaising with the producer and costume/set designer in order to fulfil [their] vision,” one which placed eccentricity at the heart of the production.

“The cast only had five days to rehearse in person, but picked up everything in this past week and really pulled through”

They also emphasised: “Every rehearsal room is full to the brim of laughter and everyone brings so much energy and light into the room, which I absolutely can’t wait to share with the world.” Getting to this point, however, was not without its difficulties as they “had to fit around the schedule of Christ’s quiet time [...] A significant portion of our rehearsal period was during Easter, and many rehearsals were done on Zoom, as people lacked the resources to get back to College early.” In total, the cast only had “five days to rehearse in person,” but the “cast picked up everything in this past week and really pulled through.”

Emma Griffiths

Setting challenges aside, Manon expressed that the highlight of directing The Importance of Being Earnest has been “meeting such a talented and hilarious group of people.” They also loved “developing the characters of Lady Bracknell and Gwendolyn, who are both such melodramatic characters in the script.” Manon said the experience “has just been so funny, and [they are] so happy that [everyone] got to create this play together.”

“Age-old traditions and institutions do not need to be followed in a serious and strict manner as they’re all a bit ridiculous”

Manon also stated that “the main message of the play is to not take things so seriously.” They believe “hilarity can be found in any situation,” and “the play shows us that things such as marriage, life, and birth—things that seem really important to us—needn’t be approached so harshly and without humour.” They also think the message of the play speaks to “Cambridge’s environment and all its strange traditions,” adding: “Age-old traditions and institutions do not need to be followed in a serious and strict manner as they’re all a bit ridiculous.”

The play’s actors also seemed to reflect Manon’s enthusiasm and vision for the play. Ayesha Jallali, who plays Cecily, thinks “Cecily is a powerful presence while still being a bit childish and occasionally bratty,” and hopes that she can portray her “without making her unlikeable.” Ayesha also loves “the Muffin Scene” in the play, but also shares her castmate Aribah Chaudhry’s opinion that “Cecily and Gwendolyn’s meeting is one of the most comedic scenes in the show.” Playing John, Aribah also enjoyed “pushing [themselves] by placing a character who is so different from anything [they] are used to.” Harry Dixon-Spain, who plays Algernon also enjoyed “understanding [his character’s] flexibility with the truth and how it affects and develops his relationships with other characters.”


Mountain View

All’s well that ends wet

If you want to “see people act outrageously over the top and eccentric for 90 minutes”, “see a Miley Cyrus tribute act perform in Christ’s Chapel”, and “laugh your socks off in week 0 before the stress of exams really starts”, Manon highly recommends going to see The Importance of Being Earnest. As Manon said, “what better way to start your term than by watching a light-hearted, hilarious, and odd play of mishaps and misunderstandings?”

The Importance of Being Earnest by Emma Griffiths is on at Christ’s Chapel from Friday 29th – Saturday 30th April.