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Two black women take on The Importance of Being Earnest at Tara Theatre

Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

TWO Gents Productions and Tara Arts are presenting the London premiere of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at Tara Theatre – from February 27 to March 16, 2019.

The Importance of Being Earnest is Oscar Wilde’s classic, witty and laugh out loud comedy of mistaken identities, confusion and cucumber sandwiches. On the surface, it’s a light, fluffy jibe at the nonsensicalness of the rich and upper class. At a deeper level, it is also a profound plea for sincerity and caring in the face of adversity.

This new production showcases Wilde’s play as it has never been seen before. Imagining a thoroughly diverse and integrated English society, two British-African women – Ayesha Casely-Hayford and Kudzanayi Chiwawa (pictured) – play all the characters and bring to life this 19th century comedy of manners in an at once mocking and lovingly playful tone.

Embracing wild wit, deft humour, role swapping and banter with the audience, they unfurl a riot of love, confusion and high jinks.

Ayesha Casely-Hayford is an actress, voice artist and employment lawyer living and working in London. Born in Battersea, she grew up in Kent and is of Ghanian descent. She is a former chair of the board of Trustees for The Act For Change Project, a charity campaigning for greater diversity in the arts. Her personal project Afro Archives explores the experience of black women with afro-textured hair through comparison with others.

In writing and performance of her own work, she has been focusing on sharing voices of women in Ghana, specifically based on experiences of her Ghanian grandmothers. She has a Diploma in Speech and Drama from London Drama School. Prior to that, she qualified as a solicitor and now balances both careers.

Her theatre credits include: Where Will We Live? (Southwark Playhouse), We Dance We Work We Sing (Vault Festival and various UK venues), Adult Child Dead Child (Lost Theatre, London), With You Always (Old Fire Station, Oxford) and Black Plays series (National Theatre, London). She was also the English narrator for The Story of Ebola (UN gold award-winning animation film directed by Yoni Goodman) and voice actor for Zombies, Run! Spectrum London web series.

Kudzanayi Chiwawa is a Zimbabwean born actress, who graduated from Drama Studio London. She has just finished playing Titania and Hypolita for Honey Tongued Productions take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed at both Dubrovnik’s Midsummer Festival and Bermuda Annual Festival of The Performing Arts. She is currently a collaborator in the new all female theatre company, Dangerous Space, taught and established by Barbara Houseman and Nastazja Somers.

Her other recent productions include One Hundred Trillion (Southwark Playhouse), In The Continuum (The Bread & Roses Theatre), Cornflake Girl (The Bunker), Big Bad (The King’s Head), Three Mothers (Jermyn Street Theatre) and Gliwice Hamlet (V&A). Alongside Two Gents, she has workshopped and performed with companies such as The Dot Collective, HerStory, Bechdel Theatre, Smooth Faced Gentlemen, Scary Little Girls, Gecko Theatre, and Punchdrunk.

Chiwawa is also a developing playwright; she was accepted onto the Royal Court Theatre Writers’ Programme and her first play Push Up Daisies was performed at The Hope Theatre.

The show’s directors Tonderai Munyevu and Arne Pohlmeier said:

The Importance of Being Earnest is a good night out at the theatre – quick witted dialogue, over the top posh-ness, mistaken identities, handbags and cucumber sandwiches. Underneath, however, there is also a tense drama about identity, social anxiety and the need to belong. We have chosen to amp up both aspects with only two actors playing all of the parts and tapping into their own experience as migrants and as women to bring a rich, nuanced approach to Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece.”

Artistic Director of Tara Arts Jatinder Verma commented:

“I am delighted to welcome Two Gents Productions back to Tara Theatre for what promises to be an unforgettable performance of this well-loved classic. The Importance of Being Earnest is a quintessentially “British” period comedy. To see it presented by two British-African women is just the kind of ground-breaking cheek Oscar Wilde would have relished. Tara Theatre provides a fitting home for this re-invented classic.”

The Importance of Being Earnest is suitable for ages 11+.

Tickets: From £11.50. To book, call the box office on 020 8333 4457 or visit www.tara-arts.com/.

Times: 7.30pm (+ 3.30pm on Saturday, March 2, 9 and 16 and 2pm on Thursday, March 7 and 14).