Writer: Oscar Wilde
Director: Adam Morley
Reviewer: Sheila Cornelius
The Public Reviews Rating:
Turn of the Screw Productions has assembled a fine creative team and cast for their debut at Bridewell Theatre. ‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ fits well with recent interest in upper-class dramas of manners such as ‘Downton Abbey’.
Self-confessed Puritan Lady Windermere seems to have it all: a devoted husband: a fine baby son: a house in Mayfair. She’s shattered to learn her husband is seeing Mrs Erlynne, a glamorous recent arrival. When he invites the other woman to a birthday ball, she’s tempted to run off with handsome admirer Lord Darlington.
Oscar Wilde’s first West End success, premiered in 1891, carries much of the appeal of his masterpiece, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’. Cynical, witty exchanges between members of the leisured classes, flamboyant characters and comic servants, rampant snobbery and the gender divide are all present.
It also has a darker edge; the young wife’s dilemma has more emotional charge than the twittering of Cecily and Gwendolyn. The mystery of Mrs Erlynne’s identity contrasts with dotty Miss Prism and her curate. In making the consequences of transgression apparent, the play is reminiscent at times of plays by George Bernard Shaw.
Adam Morley’s direction is excellent. Suzi Lombardi doesn’t over-clutter the stage, using space to suggest opulence, along with simple drapes and simple furniture items such as a writing desk and a low chaise-longue. The latter makes the most of Lord Darlington’s awkwardly long legs and emphasizes Lady Windermere’s isolation, as she sits with clasped hands and bowed head.
Costumes are striking, from the flimsy silks and shoulder furs of the fashion-plate ladies who bitch and scheme in the background, to the elegant dinner suits of the men, exchanging views on the horrors of marriage. ‘I thought he must be married to her – he treats her with such indifference’ is a typical utterance. If the lighting is occasionally a bit obscure round the edges it suits the repressive atmosphere. The lack of set diversity is a fault of the play.
The men’s contrasting temperaments are brought out very well. Piers Hunt’s Lord Darlington is not a stereotyped seducer, but suggests a genuine affection. Grace Fairburn as the tragic Duchess of Berwick who loves scandal and Tilly Bull as her silly sister make a good comic double act. Oliver Izod plays both a self-important butler and a swaggering Australian. Laura Hymer makes her mark in a cameo role as a ‘straw-coloured ‘gossip.
David Grainger brings out the perplexity of Lord Windermere. The strongest performance comes from Judy Buxton as the controlled Mrs Erlynne, commanding in a red dress and sequinned bonnet at the party gathering and expressive in her scene with Lady Windermere towards the end. Veteran actor David Shackleton thoroughly inhabits the role of Lord Augustus, Mrs Erlynne’s elderly but dapper admirer.
‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’ is an indictment of the status of Victorian women in marriage. In the title role, Autumn Ellis conveys a sense of injured pride but declines into petulance at times and fails to bring out a sense of dignity that would engage the audience. For her professional stage debut it was perhaps a too challenging role in an otherwise very successful production. The flaws are more than redeemed by lines like those given to dazzled Lord Darlington: ‘We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars.’
Runs until January 19thLady Windermere’s Fan - Bridewell Theatre, London,
Tags: Adam Henderson Scott, Autumn Ellis, Bridewell Theatre, David Grainger, David Shackleton, Dominic Danson, Grace Fairbairn, Judy Buxton, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Laura Hymers, Oliver Izod, Oscar Wilde, Piers Hunt, Tilly Bull, Turn of the Wheel Productions