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Sex swap in earnest;Set Play

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST. Bolton Octagon. Lawrence Till is giving Oscar Wilde's comedy of Victorian manners a shake up.

He has chosen a more contemporary framework in which to set the conceits, deceits and confusions in the story. Jack loves Gwendolen, Algernon loves Cecily, but their fibs are a stumbling block and they must deal with the formidable Lady Bracknell, who is not all she seems.

"A hundred years on the story comes out as ordinary; it now reads like Somerset Maugham. the people who were watching the play in Wilde's time were being attacked, they were being trivialised," says Till.

So he has set himself the task of getting audiences to listen anew. The play is like Hamlet, audiences know the lines before the actors get to them. Till has, he says, begun to make the story more extraordinary.

"I decided it should be as difficult as possible for the actors to tell the story," he says.

so, the play's nine characters are played by seven actors and it is not a case of simply doubling up. It will begin with two actors coming on stage and apologising.

"Tonight won't be what you imagine," they will explain. "The actors who should be playing Cecily and Canon Chasuble have been arrested (for soliciting) and we've all been in the police station all afternoon trying to sort it out. At the moment it's just the two of us, the others will be turning up..."

As and when they turn up they will take on a role, but not necessarily the role they auditioned for, and they will not remain in that role. There will be lots of cross-dressing. One actor will be a stage manager and will dress his colleagues on stage.

"As we get into act three," Till says, "Jack, Algernon, Cecily and Gwendolen, the four lovers in the story, are all being played by men."

Not in pantomime fashion. The women will be played as convincingly as if they really were women.

Till will not keep the play in any one period. The idiosyncracies of each character will dictate their dress and period. Music is from the 40s and the 50s - and will be played on a 50s juke-box.

May 13-June 4, tel: 01204 520661.

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