The Importance of Being Earnest
Talawa Theatre Company presented Oscar Wilde's 'The Importance of Being Earnest' with an all-Black cast directed by the company's Artistic Director Yvonne Brewster at the Tyne Theatre and Bloomsbury Theatre, London in 1989.
Talawa’s was the first all-Black production of Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest in London. The Oscar Wilde classic was a co-production with The Tyne Theatre, Newcastle in Spring 1989 and also toured the UK.
Yvonne Brewster, Director
'My aim is not to attempt a West Indian version of the play but to stage this Oscar Wilde classic with Black actors.'
Critics and audiences alike celebrated Brewster's reasoning that the theme of identity and trying to work out one’s origins made it relevant to all sectors of society in Britain, Black Britons in particular.
No attempt was made to change the script to accommodate a version of ‘Blackness’ or subvert the play’s values. Critical reception to the play validated the decision.
Each reviewer noted that the play was faithful to the original in everything but the presumed colour of the actors, encouraging them to judge the production on the strength of their acting rather than the interpretation of the text.
Nicholas De Jongh, The Guardian, 18 May 1989.
'[Yvonne Brewster] has not transposed the play to black territory, with different, if analogous manners and conventions. She has not turned it upside down with black masters and white servants. The revelation of this production is that the sight of black actors inhabiting the skins and minds of upper class white Victorians does not seem strange or perverse'.
Alex Renton, 'Something Wilde', Independent, 18 May 1989
'I cannot remember another [The Importance of Being Earnest] where the actors seemed to perform and live each scene with such ease.'
The Importance of Being Earnest, Talawa Theatre Company, 1989
Yvonne Brewster, Director
'... the only living relative of Oscar Wilde, his grandson Merlin Holland, came to see the show with his Mother. We didn't even know he was coming. He just kept coming back all the time, and he wrote something really nice in my book ... "Yvonne, you have done more for The Importance than anyone in 20 years" ... this production had given back life because it was irreverant and fun again ... '
The Importance of Being Earnest was also Talawa's first co-production, and it's first production to tour outside London. The production toured to The Tyne Theatre and Opera House Newcastle, The Bloomsbury Theatre London, and Cork Opera House in Ireland.
Talawa was now a national touring company.