The Importance of Being Earnest, a UBC Theatre playbill by Ernest Le Messurier, cartoonist and commercial artist, from the Ernest Le Messurier Comic Collection in the Vancouver Archives, 76-32 #121. Ernest was a graduate of the first class to officially bear the name UBC, and this poster was created for the 1919 production of the Oscar Wilde classic. The theatre program can be seen on this page. It was not without controversy, however, as an editorial that ran in the January 9, 1919 Ubyssey lambasted the theatre for its selection:
We note with more disgust than surprise that the Players’ Club has chosen for the spring play “The Importance of Being Earnest,” by Oscar Wilde. It does seem extraordinary that from the vast army of playwrights, ancient and modern, Oscar Wilde should be the one favored by the executive of this club; but it is the play itself more than its writer that meets with our disapproval. It would seem fitting indeed that an organization of University students, enjoying the broadening process of “higher education,” should endeavor to stand for the moral as well as the merely intellectual qualities in the plays with which the University name must be associated by the general public….
But was the editorial intentionally written to garner a response? A week later, a rebuttal appeared in the form of a letter to the editors:
Dear Sir: I read with amazement, mitigated by compassion, your amazing attack on the masterpiece chosen by the Players’ Club for their spring production, it seems scarcely credible that anyone who has carefully read this play could make such absurd comments.
Your criticisms seem to be levelled against the character of the author and the moral attitude of the play. The first point I shall pass over as unworthy of discussion. If standard works are to be judged by the morality of their authors, then our literature would be sadly depleted.
As for the second charge, I am entirely in agreement with you that the play was written primarily to amuse. If we went to acquire only “higher education” through the stage, we do not attend Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas nor any other exhilarating and piffling productions which for years have been drawing immense audiences from all ranks of life in London and New York. We even exclude the great Shakespearian comedies for fear they upset the gravity of our thoughts. I venture to say ninety per cent, of our great plays aim not at “higher education,” but at wholesome amusement, which in itself is highly beneficial. I am even inclined to think it would do you good, Mr. Editor, to relax your ponderous solemnity with an occasional laugh…
On March 13, it was reported that the “WILDE COMEDY PLAYED TO FULL HOUSE—ACTORS WELL APPLAUDED”
"The University Players, who on Saturday brought to a close their excellent ‘performance of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest,’ did more than give the Vancouver public some delightful hpurs of amusement. They have assisted to put Oscar Wilde ‘where he belongs’— back amongst he most brilliant writers of the Victorian era."
Such is the tribute paid to the Players’ Club by one of the editors of “The World.”
"The Importance of Being Earnest" is not an easy play for amateurs to act; and the very creditable performances given by our students at the Avenue last week, before large audiences, shows both an aptitude for acting and a capacity for hard work on the part of the performers.
The staging of the play was excellent, and no words can adequately describe the charm of the setting in the second act. The costumes were appropriate, the dresses of the ladies being both fashionable and, on the whole, well suited to their roles as English society ladies…
To put things in perspective, UBC was in its 4th year when this play was produced, and Ernest was 25 years old when he produced this poster. I think the poster clearly demonstrates that Ernest was an artistic tour de force and an early achiever! His assortment of drawings in the Vancouver Archives is one of my favourite collections in the entire Vancouver Archives! Vive Le Messurier!