In this production of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan the fan theme starts with the ornately painted stage curtain and continues with a rather grand fan-like window and doorway to the Windermere’s terrace. As Lady Windermere sits in her house admiring the eponymous fan – a present from her loving husband – she has two visitors. First is Lord Darlington, a fervent admirer of her Ladyship who hints at gossip of her play-away husband spending the family coffers on a woman of few morals. Next in is the Duchess of Berwick, who does no beating about the bush but tells her friend outright that Lord Windermere is bang at it with Mrs Erlynne and that she should be happy he isn’t bothering her for his conjugals when she should be conserving her energy for keeping house and bringing up a small child – Albeit with a team of servants, writes Michael Holland.
In her naïveté Lady Windermere refuses to believe them until she checks the household accounts and sees a lot of money going out to the woman named in the rumours by her ‘friends’. This sets off a domino effect of incidents and mishaps that could so easily have been explained with just one line of honesty at the beginning, but which would then have denied us an enjoyable couple of hours of Wilde’s wit and bon mots.
There is much jollity to be had from poking fun at the upper classes, today as much as it was then. We all love to see another nail hammered into the coffin of ‘society’ and Wilde was – still is – the man to do it. Even more so when it is as much fun as this Kathy Burke directed piece. The men all do sterling work of being polite, quaffing port and smoking, but it is Grace Molony as Lady Windermere who shines; Samantha Spiro as the talked about woman who has all the men(and women) falling at her feet as she revels in her role, and it is Jennifer Saunders as Duchess of Berwick, cruising through as herself in full sail Victorian dress who steals the show.
In other news, inside the programme was a facsimile of the original programme from the world premiere of Lady Windermere’s Fan. In 1892 it was the delightfully named Mr Nutcombe Gould who played the first Lord Darlington. Nutcombe was a wealthy rector’s son from Devon with a terrible stammer whose speech impediment, luckily, did not affect him on stage. Jump forward more than a century and that character is now lovingly, and humorously brought to life by non-stuttering SE Londoner Kevin Bishop, an actor whose comic timing and skill with voices is legendary.
Lady Windermere’s Fan is on The Vaudeville Theatre, 404 Strand, London, WC2R 0NH until April 7th. Times: Mon – Sat 7.30pm; Thurs & Sat matinees 2.30pm. Admission: £35 – £75. Phone: 0330 3334814