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Belfast's Mac Theatre dragged into 'anti-gay' row over its take on classic Oscar Wilde play

By Allan Preston

An Oscar Wilde farce to be staged in Belfast's Metropolitan Arts Centre with men playing the male and female roles has been criticised by one theater-goer as "like something from Little Britain".

The Importance Of Being Earnest will begin a three-week run on March 24.

A video promoting the Victorian-era comedy and released earlier this month shows the cast reciting their lines in full costume.

In a cast of around 10 characters, there are four prominent female roles - Lady Bracknell, Gwendolen Fairfax, Cecily Cardew and Miss Prism.

The production was put together by the Bruiser Theatre Company and the Mac, which receive funding from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland.

Yesterday they urged the public to see the show before passing judgment.

When the trailer appeared on the Mac's Facebook page, one individual quickly pleaded for it to be deleted.

Conor Mitchell, who helps run theatre group the Belfast Ensemble, said he felt the tone of the video was disrespectful towards gay people.

"I find this offensive. I'm sorry," he wrote.

"As an openly gay man living in Northern Ireland, I find this deeply offensive.

"They are all lovely, hardworking people, but I really can't hold my tongue.

"I just think this is misogynistic and shows a complete contempt for the gay community."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, he said: "I have no issue with that company and their history.

"As an artist and a gay man, I find it offensive. It's like something from Little Britain, or the 1970s."

He added that while he accepted the company did not mean to mock homosexuals, he believed the trailer was "careless" in creating that impression.

Responding to the criticism in a joint statement, Mac creative director Simon Magill and Bruiser Theatre Company director Lisa May strenuously denied being disrespectful to the gay community.

"Our intention was certainly not to cause offence or provoke anyone with the first of our promotional trailers for the show," they said.

"We have recorded a series of these videos, which we'll be sharing out in the coming days. Regarded as one of Oscar Wilde's finest works, this humorous take on Victorian high society is arguably one of the Irish playwright's most enduring comedies, with some of his funniest and well-known lines.

"The purpose of the video was to capture some essence of that humorous dialogue."

They added that the production was still in rehearsal and was "by no means the finished product that audiences will see on stage".

Defending their choice of an all-male cast, they said "the recurring themes of marriage, courtship and love present in Earnest ring as true today as when Wilde first put pen to paper".

They said the intention of an all-male cast was to "open up conversation on the issues of gender, sexual equality and same-sex marriage in 2017" - issues which create regular debate in Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK where it is not legal for gay couples to marry.

They added that the play was meant to be "representative of tolerance and inclusivity" and to celebrate Oscar Wilde, a man who was himself criminalised for being gay.

"Having an all-male cast is not a gimmick - it's a creative decision and one we hoped would spark conversation and debate which we very much encourage here at the Mac," they said.

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland was contacted for a response, but said it did not routinely comment on matters of artistic direction.

  • For more information on the play visit www.themaclive.com

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