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Joshua King - The Importance of Being… Earnest? Interview

Fresh from a phenomenal Fringe run last year, the critically acclaimed and hugely popular ‘The Importance of Being...Earnest?’ returns to the Pleasance.

Say It Again, Sorry?’s comedic masterpiece of meticulous logistics, meritoriously involved audiences, masterful stage management and celebrity cameos is delighted to return to Edinburgh after a hugely successful 2022. In this riotous twist on a much-loved classic; after the actor playing Ernest in Oscar Wilde’s famed farce fails to arrive on cue, a real audience member is quickly cast in the lead role. But what should have saved the show, instead sets off a hilarious chain of events that, one-by-one, renders the rest of the cast unable to continue their performances.

As more audience members are encouraged to step into the spotlight, led backstage for costume and make-up, impromptu auditions, paint portraits, chant mantras, and do whatever’s needed to help the show go on, an absurd controlled madness ensues – until it feels as if there are almost as many audience in the cast as there are in the ... audience.

Photo by Dylan Silk

Ahead of the show both returning to the Edinburgh Fringe and then embarking on a 37-week tour I spoke with writer Joshua King to discuss the show.

What inspired you to write “The Importance of Being... Earnest?”?
Our company, Say It Again, Sorry? has always loved meeting new people and empowering all types of theatregoers to really get involved in the creative process, so a few years ago we decided to see how far this idea could take us. Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Earnest immediately jumped out as the perfect vehicle for an audience-led, interactive comedy, so then it was just a matter of using the original play as a starting point, and seeing where it would go and how the dominoes would fall if Ernest didn’t show up and had to be replaced by an audience member. 
How do you approach taking on a story that is so well known? 
There’s obviously a bit of pressure when you’re adapting a work as well-known as Earnest, but really there are so many more positives than negatives. The fact that it is so well known means that as long as you include and respect the parts and quotes and characters that people know and love, then they will be all the more accepting and enthusiastic about what you have brought to it. There are reasons that people love Oscar Wilde’s work, and they’re largely the same reasons we were so driven to do this show in the first place: it’s funny, it’s endlessly relevant and, more than anything else, it’s playful. So, by keeping those things in mind, and just enjoying the process of making a comedy about a great comedy, the approach turned out to be a real joy.
Using an audience member to step in as the lead character must have been a fun idea and led to some brilliant performances. How has that process been? 
The process is as fun and unpredictable as you can imagine. We never vet the audiences or pre-pick anyone who comes onto the stage, so whatever mayhem the audience experiences, we are experiencing as well. That can be terrifying at times, obviously, but it is always hugely rewarding and never fails to deliver a pay-off that reminds us why we work in this high-risk, high-reward way.
I guess having a different audience involvement organically means every show is different. As a writer, do you leave room for that when you’re writing the script?
In short, yes! We’ve been developing this show for a few years now, and so we’ve learnt a lot about how to put a script together that allows for a lot of unpredictability and chaos, while also being structured enough to keep the story going forwards. We love to have structure, just so we can make sure everyone, whether they’re in the audience or on the stage, has a great, entertaining time, from beginning to end. But we also love the chaos, which is why we leave a lot of room in between the structure for the audience members on stage to really have some fun and put their own spin on this comedy classic. 

Photo by Dylan Silk

The company uses an open rehearsal room and allows an audience to be part of the creative process. Why did you choose to do this, and does it help when developing a piece?
We chose to do this firstly because a show like this needsaudience members to work, so it’s impossible to rehearse without them. But throughout the process we realised there was something much more valuable happening in the room during these open rehearsals, too. They allowed us to meet people, to collaborate with creatives we’d never met before, and to generally just share our enthusiasm with like-minded artists. We’re all just working out this process of making fun theatre as we go along, so why not learn from as many people as possible as we do it?
What do you want an audience member to take away from seeing the show?
Mostly, I’d love people to just have fun. It’s a show you can enjoy just as much whether you’re up on stage or sitting in the audience (or even in the tech box, as I often am), because you know that what you’re watching is unique and empowering and joyful. But also, as a writer, I’d love audience members to see just how accessible your spontaneous, creative, theatrical side can really be. We have so many people come up on stage who have never done it before, let alone in front of hundreds of people, and when we speak to them afterwards, they’re always so glad that they did it. It really does reveal a whole new side to yourself you might never have thought existed. So unleash that Wildean side of yourself! You’ll be glad you did!
What performances/shows have inspired you?
We had one show during the Fringe last year I remember, where an Ernest of ours was having a great time, being very funny and playing along with every game and scene - it was a textbook show. Then a few days afterwards, their dad approached me on the Royal Mile and said that since doing it, they’d been recognised everywhere they went, like a Fringe celebrity, and it had been the highlight of their whole month in Edinburgh. That encapsulated perfectly why I love doing this show, because what was an exciting, wonderful, but generally normal show for us, was an amazing, life-changing, positive moment for this audience member.
Can you describe “The Importance of Being... Earnest?” in 3 words?
Different. Every. Time.
The Importance of Being…Earnest? will be performed at the Edinburgh Festival at 4.40pm in Pleasance Courtyard (Beyond) from 2nd – 27th August. To book, visit
Following its Edinburgh run, The Importance of Being…Earnest?will embark on a 37-week tour, beginning in September 2023 and running right through to July 2024. Find out more at

Photo by Dylan Silk

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