Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest is one of the world’s most popular comedies, boasting some of the funniest lines of the English language. In April, Wild Rice brings this enticing comedy to life on stage with Glen Goei directing an all-male ensemble of actors.
Here, Goei and Wild Rice’s Founding Artistic Director and actor Ivan Heng answer some questions about the play, their lives, the subject of love and the relationship of the government and the arts.
A major theme of The Importance of Being Earnest is its satire on marriage and other institutions, and on the moralities of the Victorian era, which is when the play is set. As a director taking this play into this century, is this satire still relevant to audiences today?
The play is about the superficialities and hypocrisy of the middle classes, which is as relevant in 21st century Singapore as it was in 19th century Britain. Parents in Singapore are still as prejudiced and discriminatory about the race, religion and class of the person their child is marrying. We all still wear masks to hide our true identities and to present to society what we think they deem as acceptable.
Furthermore, this production is also a tribute to Oscar Wilde, who went to prison because of what he stood for and what he believed in. Here in Singapore, because of an archaic law we inherited from the Victorians known as 377A, homosexuals are still denied the right to live with dignity and to love whomever they choose.
Are you yourself in a committed romantic partnership right now? What are your thoughts about marriage in this day and age? Is it necessary? Is it trivial or a serious matter today?
A “committed romantic partnership”??? Heaven forbid! That would be SO BORING! Why just stick to one person when you can have many more? Does this answer your second question about marriage too? Marriage is a hetero-construct of men to keep their wives in order so they can continue fooling around.
How did you choose the cast for this play?
Oscar Wilde’s language is not easy to handle. That was my first prerequisite in casting. I still had to cast in Kuala Lumpur for the role of Cecily, played by Gavin Yap.
The basic premise of the play is based on lies and deception. Have you ever engaged in any form of deception yourself?
Oh! All the time! I constantly live in a make-believe world to survive the harsh reality of living in Singapore!
By the end of the play, of course truth and honesty prevail. How much of a premium do you place on honesty and truth in your life and in your relationships?
None at all. Why should one be truthful when it is so much more fun not being so? The truth is always so boring. Playing different characters makes the world your stage. And isn’t the theatre a great place to escape to?
You rose to fame after appearing opposite Anthony Hopkins on stage in M. Butterfly. What was that experience like? And have you stayed in touch with Mr. Hopkins?
The experience was unforgettable and never to be repeated in one’s lifetime. The opportunity was bestowed upon me and I am grateful. Hopkins was a kind and gentle man and he taught me humility and generosity, on stage and off.
Why did you eventually leave the UK, after establishing Mu-Lan Arts there?
I was having a midlife crisis, having lived the first 20 years of my life in Singapore and the second 20 years in the UK. So I felt half Singaporean and half British. So I decided to take a year off and spend the eve of the millennium in Asia to reconnect with my roots.
Returning to Singapore to work in the theatre, I felt that what I had to say as an artist had much more relevance and urgency than had I remained in London; so I ended up staying.
Did you ever try making it in Hollywood?
I had a three-picture/five-year contract with Miramax Pictures who had bought the rights to my first film Forever Fever. As it was a writing job, I could do it from wherever I chose to live. So I didn’t have to base myself in Hollywood. I wrote and developed a couple of scripts for them but they were never produced. I left them at the end of my contract to pursue my own independent filmmaking.