Wednesday, 14 February 2018
Lady Windermere's Fan at The Vaudeville Theatre
Following on from his tenure as Artistic Director at The Globe, Dominic Dromgoole has formed a new company. Entitled Classic Spring, it is currently producing a season of Oscar Wilde’s plays at The Vaudeville Theatre, the second of which is Lady Windermere’s Fan. For this show, this most enterprising of theatrical stalwarts has assembled a great mix of talent, from Kathy Burke as Director to Samantha Spiro and Jennifer Saunders as Mrs. Erlynne and the Duchess of Berwick respectively. All three do not disappoint.
It is quite an undertaking to put on a Wilde play, which is probably why it rarely happens, but here it is done with aplomb. Kathy Burke handles the large cast with ease and one of the several scene changes is accompanied by Saunder’s character moving slightly out of character to sing an hilarious ditty entitled “Keep your hands off my fan, sir!”. Unmissable!
Wilde once again proves his empathy for the position of women in polite society where certain sacrifices have to be made. The main character of the play, Mrs Erlynne highlights this. This attractive, social climber, who to all intents and purposes has her claws well and truly embedded in Lord Windermere, is actually hiding her true raison de’etre. And Samantha Spiro perfectly encapsulates both the “scarlet” and “maternal” aspects of a woman who is scorned by the likes of the Duchess of Berwick. Never cloying when the true nature of her attempt to return to polite society is revealed, she also manages to imbue this so-called fallen woman with dignity and humour.
But I guess the evening ultimately belongs to the magnificent Jennifer Saunders. Treading the boards for the first time in over twenty years, she is a joy as the blousy, bossy Duchess, bossing and flouncing to all and sundry, but especially her “little chatterbox” daughter who never gets a word in edgeways. Always the gossip, Saunders relays everything that’s happening within her social circle (and plenty that isn’t) through scarcely parted lips and her bits of business with her walking cane are inspired. Why speak when you can convey everything with a look and point of a stick?
Grace Molony as Lady Windermere equips herself very well. She highlights the young woman’s youth and susceptibility very well and in so doing, squashes the girl’s priggishness.
Unfortunately, the men don’t fare quite so well. ‘Tis true Wilde has given the best lines to the women but, even so, the males in the cast didn’t really inspire, especially Kevin Bishop as Lord Darlington. I certainly couldn’t see any reason why Lady Windermere might risk all by running off with someone so lacking in charisma. But no matter, I left the theatre with a smile on my face, having witnessed a couple of hours of delightful (and at times laugh out loud) entertainment. A fan of Lady Windermere? Most certainly.