LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN is the second of the season of Oscar Wilde plays that Dominic Dromgoole and his new company Classic Spring are bringing to London’s West End , here directed by award-winning writer, actor and director Kathy Burke and starring Jennifer Saunders (among others), filmed at the Vaudeville Theatre in London’s West End.
Wilde’s 1892 play tells the story of young Lady Windermere, who flees her own birthday party because she mistakenly believes her husband is having an affair with Mrs Erlynne, a woman with a scandalous past .The truth is far more complicated than the rumours and Lord Windermere, however misguidedly, is trying to protect his wife from it. The play explores, with real sympathy, the way that shame can be used to derail a woman’s life.one slip, one single mistake can ruin a life.
Mrs Erlynne refuses to behave in the way society considers appropriate and acknowledge and repent for her past, so she eventually pays a huge price and has to make a major sacrifice – again. The work examines the hypocrisy and double standards of Victorian morals and high society .It also centres on a mother’s self – sacrificing love for her (in this case) unacknowledged child and love in marriage.Wilde’s script is full of delicious witticisms and famous quotes.
The front curtain with its five women and the ‘language of fans’ is quite Mikado – ish and a couple of the costume designs are Japanese inspired. Lady Windermere’s fan features prominently from the first scene .Fans allow their carriers to have a way of conveying emotions that cannot be expressed in polite company with words alone. For women in Victorian society, they were also a mask to hide behind, in some ways a weapon, and a form of social communication.
The set design by Paul Wills for the Windermere’s home – light , airy and exquisite – is ravishing and hopefully will be nominated for many awards. This is contrasted with the narcissistic brown and somewhat gloomy and masculine designs for Lord Darlington’s home.
Grace Moloney as Lady Windermere is marvellous and gives a fine performance emphasising her youth priggishness and vulnerability. She eventually realises society’s hypocrisy and hidden cruelties regarding treatment of women hidden underneath the seemingly civilised surface. Will she succumb to Lord Darlington?
Jennifer Saunders as the Duchess of Berwick has a whale of a time in her long anticipated return to the stage, being overbearing bossy and channelling Lady Bracknell. She is grand and imposing and beautifully dressed in a purple and mauve outfit (among others) and a series of wonderful hats and delivers Wilde’s witticisms wonderfully. She dominates her daughter Agatha (Ami Metcalf) who can barely get a word in and drives her in to a hasty marriage to a Mr Hopper from Australia.In the second half she leads a small band in a rousing rendition of ‘ Keep your hands off my fan , sir! ‘ full of innuendo .
Samantha Spiro gives a grand performance as Mrs Erlynne , The Woman With A Past , a glamourous adventuress ( “THAT woman “ ) who seeks to return to polite society. Her first entrance is spectacular . She begins rather slowly but we see the shame ,heartbreak and the maternal love that has to be hidden shining through in a finely nuanced performance.
As Lord Windermere Joshua James in a tremendous performance is tall ,stooping , bespectacled and extremely aristocratic .His callow , superficial appearance is deceptive as he really loves his wife and especially in the second half there is some fine,intense acting.
Suave , charismatic Lord Darlington is elegantly eloquently played by Kevin Bishop.
The servants are interesting too . There is the maid Rosalie (played by Ami Metcalf ) who is forthright and challenging and uses words as a kind of rebellion,while Matthew Darcy is splendid as the discreet butler Parker who observes everything and uses the double standards and hypocrisies of society to his own advantage.
A stylish, thoughtful production that transfers well from stage to screen.
Running time – allow 2 hours 40 includes one interval.