Plays, like people, can be charming or tedious; this year’s production of Lady Windermere’s Fan was emphatically the former. To achieve the slick elegance required to pull off the arch dialogue of Oscar Wilde is no mean feat and the young cast here did it excellently. The whole cast sparkled with the cut-glass accents and poised drollery that the parts require. It takes a lot of effort to appear so natural and this control was evident as they endowed the apparent froth of Wilde’s prose with its full range of rich suggestion, probing at social mores, vanities and delusions. Indeed, the melancholy that lies beneath much of the seeming triviality and verbal dexterity was subtly portrayed by the whole cast and was very impressive, adding weight and heft to what can seem a lightweight piece on the page.
Maddy W gave an excellent performance as the eponymous Lady Windermere - an innocent in a jaded and corrupt world – who was matched very well with Morgan S, her similarly virtuous husband, with both struggling against the moral quandaries fate has sucked them into. The sincerity of the two leads stood out, with the two young performers providing a convincing glance into the world of married life and tensions. As the source of their troubles, Olivia L, playing the enigmatic and mysterious Mrs Erlynne, gave an incredibly impressive performance, remarkable for its power and intensity. Once again, I was amazed that such a young actor was so convincing as both an embittered cynic, shrewdly manipulating the society in which she moves, as well as a grieving and distressed mother, suddenly overwhelmed by suppressed maternal instinct. The scenes of reconciliation and sacrifice involving Lady Windermere and Mrs Erlynne provided an exceptional emotional heart to the play. On the outskirts of this familial drama Patrick O’B as Lord Darlington provided a real sense of languor and ennui, bringing out the world-weariness of a play that elsewhere seems to revel in the excesses and superficialities of its contemporary society.
This being Oscar Wilde there was comedy aplenty too. There was an excellent ensemble assembled to provide wit and good-humour. The male cast particularly seemed surprisingly at ease portraying the rather louche assortment high-life gentlemen that populate the play. Martin J as the kind but foolish Lord Augustus Lorton stood out for his comic timing and skilful mannerisms. Jonathan W excelled as the rakish and aloof Mr Graham and Harry A was mightily convincing as the half-drunk Mr Dumby, with Max L providing comic interludes as the antipodean Mr Hopper. The mother and daughter team of Jojo W and Polly M, out to make a husband of the wealthy Mr Hopper, stood out for their comic timing, working exceptionally well as a double act. Sam W, Varvara K, Natalia D and Calvin C helped to round out the crowded and glamorous milieu of the piece with real grace and charm.
This was an exceptional production and it was no doubt only possible with the vast experience, expertise, patience and enthusiasm of Mr Richardson, the director, and Mr Chandler who works so hard backstage.