Lady Windermere’s Fan is the second show of Dominic Dromgoole’s Oscar Wilde season at the Vaudeville Theatre. Dromgoole, the former artistic director of The Globe, has set up Classic Spring – a theatre company which produces
“proscenium playwrights” in the architectural surroundings for which they wrote. The Vaudeville on the Strand opened in 1870 and in the show’s programme, Dromgoole writes that Wilde, who lived close by in Salisbury Street, actually watched Hedda Gabbler in that very theatre. Whilst the theatre retains many of its original Victorian features, thankfully the plush red velvet seats have had an overhaul in recent years.
The comedy actor Kathy Burke wears her directorial hat and delivers a social comedy which entertains its audience in 2018 as much as it did in 1892. Running at only 2 hours including an interval, Wilde’s play is brisk and overflowing with some of his most famous epigrams. Comedian Kevin Bishop plays Lord Darlington, who has most of them, and Bishop admirably speaks them in dead-pan fashion, resisting any temptation to overplay them.
The star casting is Jennifer Saunders and she doesn’t disappoint. Saunders is superb as the minor character the Duchess of Berwick. Burke has strengthened Saunders’ role by adding a comedy song performed in front of the curtain during a scene change. Saunders plays the Duchess with impeccable comedy timing but her skills as an actress mean that we see no glimpse of her famous comedy creation Edina Monsoon or even Saunders herself. She inhabits her character completely and plays the Duchess with a hint of Lady Bracknell haughtiness.
Olivier-award winning Samantha Spiro plays the aggressively flirty Mrs Erlynne with spectacular presence and passion. Her vivaciousness makes the men of the play, and the audience, fall completely head over heels for her.
Around the star names of Bishop, Saunders and Spiro is a 13 strong cast of actors who also sparkle in the spotlight. In particular, Grace Molony, Matthew Darcy, Joshua James and David O’Reilly give noteworthy performances.
Paul Wills’ day set at the beginning is sparse and uncluttered with a faded pastel palette chosen for the costumes – lots of pink, lilac, grey and duck egg. These pastel hues echo Wilde’s lightness of touch. As the play develops and the heavier themes of morality, motherhood and sacrifice come to the fore, the set features more stylised Victoriana – the heavy draped curtains, wood panelled wall, oil paintings and mahogany furniture clutter the stage as Mrs Erlynne puts Lady Windermere’s happiness before her own.
Kathy Burke’s production is witty and enjoyable. Accompanied by a light-hearted score by composer Shane Cullinan, Lady Windermere’s Fan is a well-acted comedy with star casting – a guaranteed West End hit.
Review by Laura-Jane Foley
LADY WINDERMERE’S FAN
The day of Lady Windermere’s birthday party and all is perfectly in order. Until her friend Lord Darlington plants a seed of suspicion. Is her husband having an affair? And will the other woman really attend the party?
‘You gave me this fan today; it was your birthday present. If that woman crosses my threshold, I shall strike her across the face with it.’
Lady Windermere’s Fan is directed by award-winning writer, actor and director Kathy Burke (The Quare Fellow and Once a Catholic).
The full cast comprises Victoria Blunt, Natasha Magigi, Ami Metcalf, Grace Molony, Charlie Mulliner, Siân Polhill-Thomas, Jennifer Saunders, Samantha Spiro, Kevin Bishop, Matthew Darcy, Roger Evans, Joshua James, Joseph Marcell, David O’Reilly, Benedict Salter and Gary Shelford.
Lady Windermere’s Fan
Written by Oscar Wilde
Directed by Kathy Burke
Designed by Paul Wills
Composed by Shane Cullinan
Lighting by Paul Keoghan
Sound by John Leonard
Lady Windermere’s Fan
Booking Period: Friday 12th January 2018 – Saturday 7th April 2018
Vaudeville Theatre, London