Fans of Wilde and W!LD RICE will be delighted at the return of the play and its star-studded cast, whose first run in 2009 lasted 3 weeks and won Best Production, Best Supporting Actor (Chua Enlai) and Best Costume Design (Frederick Lee) from the LIFE! Theatre Awards in 2010.

“It’s wonderful to be reunited with the cast and crew after 4 years,” Chua tells UrbanWire in an email interview. Returning to the production again as Gwendolyn Fairfax, he considers the “different rules in terms of decorum … of someone in the 1800s” as his biggest challenge. On the other hand, Hossan Leong, who plays Cecily Cardew’s (Gavin Yap) governess, Miss Prism, struggled most with “getting the old woman’s voice correct but still sounding clear and crisp”.


The play, directed by Glen Goei, starts with Algernon Moncrieff, (Brendon Fernandez), talking to his butler, Lane (Crispian Chan), as the latter sets up tea and cucumber sandwiches in preparation for the arrival of Algernon’s aunt, Lady Bracknell (Ivan Heng), and her daughter, Gwendolyn.

The plot slowly develops in front of a fully monochrome background, the classic and classy hues continued in the black and white suits sported by all the characters. The simplicity of the set design (done by Heng himself) and costumes allow the audience to concentrate in and fully appreciate the characters and their complexities, without being distracted by superfluous details in the background.


Both Algernon and his friend, John Worthing (Daniel York), lie to their love interests, Cecily Cardew and Gwendolyn respectively, assuming the name of Earnest to win their affections, as both girls are intrigued by that name. “It is a divine name. It has a music of its own. It produces vibrations,” says Gwendolyn.


These men not only face the threat of having their deceptions uncovered, they have to also win the approval of the girls’ and their guardians. Lady Bracknell, in particular, is hard to please; she beams at John when she finds out he has a townhouse on Belgrave Square, and her expression changes into one of dissatisfaction when she finds out he lives on “the unfashionable side”.

Ivan Heng, arguably Singapore’s best gender-bending actor with his prized portrayals of Emily of Emerald Hill and M. Butterfly, fits the role of Lady Bracknell like a glove. A typical representation of a rich mother in the Victorian era, she’s well dressed, poised and has determined a set of traits for her potential son-in-laws to have. Heng portrays Lady Bracknell with such dedication and drowns himself in the role; it is almost impossible to remember a full-grown man is playing her.

 Meanwhile, Algernon and John provide the play with good, amusing banter throughout that rises to a hilariously intense argument regarding Cecily, who is John’s ward. The argument then shifts momentarily to a short bicker on Algernon’s eating habits and his fondness for muffins. Fernandez and York as buddies share a fun chemistry on stage that keeps the audience glued to their seats, laughing their hearts out.


Who truly shines, however, is Gavin Yap as Cecily. His petite stature is half the battle won, but to that he has added convincingly girly demeanour, complete with his wide-eyed expression that truly bring Cecily to life. Chua also does a flawless job as Gwendolyn, and together, the both of them play entirely believable young women.


Humour and wit aside, the play, when you dig deeper and beyond the comical characters, remains relevant to the issues faced today despite premiering in 1895. Superficial details like a respectable name, the amount of money men earn, and their backgrounds, are still being used to judge people.


“Look at the world now and compare; discrimination and a lack of human rights all still exist and Wilde’s words hold a mirror up to society, both for that period and now,” Leong shares his observations with UrbanWire. Chua agrees, “These days, we may champion egalitarianism but you cannot deny the fact that we live within a hierarchy. And we continue to mask our true selves, projecting who we think we should be and how we think society wants us to be.”


The play, featuring music from the likes of Mozart, Hadyn and Bach, (played by The Ensemble Dimension Players from the T’ang Quartet) will deliver audiences a night of mirth and entertainment. It’s not often you get to see gender bending productions of classical literature, and we can only hope this amazing cast of men comes back again for many more times in the future.


The play runs until May 4, and tickets start from $45 at SISTIC.


Photos courtesy of W!LD RICE.