Lady Windermere’s Fan
Paul Johnson | 26 Jun 2016 15:29pm
Lady Windermere’s Fan, and indeed the other plays in Oscar Wilde’s canon – A Woman of No Importance, An Ideal Husband, The Importance of Being Earnest – are very much of their time. They speak of people barely recognisable in the modern age and discuss issues that once seemed shocking but are now, unfortunately, far too commonplace to cause consternation in a theatre audience. Still, they are so very beautifully written with sharp, observant humour and sincere emotion, that it is impossible to dislike them.
It does leave a problem for theatrical productions, however, which concerns pacing. Wilde’s stories are so light and delicate, full of froth and air that they could potentially cause a modern audience to begin fidgeting in their seats. The Putney Theatre Company’s (PTC) production of Lady Windermere’s Fan suffered a little from this itself in the first act, which started slowly and never really picked up. The blocking was simple – stand, sit, step, repeat – but in honesty, it’s difficult to think up a more exciting alternative. After all, you can only work with the text and the first act is indeed quite stagnant and slow in pace.
However, the same cannot be said of the second act which picked up the pace wonderfully and held it not only to the end of the first half but the end of the play. It was lovely that the often awkward and time consuming set change between the acts was masked by a beautiful vocal performance that carried on into the scene and Lady Windermere’s party. The arrival of larger-than-life characters such as Mr Hopper (Paul Alexander), Lord Augustus (Vaughan Evans), Mr Dumby (Joe Foulsham) and Lady Plymdale (Zoë Thomas-Webb) gave the scene a boost of energy and humour. Ian Higham’s direction of the scene was delightful with characters coming in and out, driving the story and keeping up that much needed speed.
Mrs Erlynne’s appearance in the scene, clothed in a red dress that made her stand out, was perfectly designed and in keeping with a character that is so good at mixing things up and causing a spectacle. Amanda Benzecry played the desperate and flawed character who, ultimately, has been suffering the consequences of one mistake, one which polite society could never forgive. Other than a key moment involving the finding of a letter that could have been played bigger with more of an internal struggle, the performance was incredibly strong full of charm, sincerity (or perhaps that should be insincerity) and, on the other side of the coin, self-loathing and wickedness. It is her that resonates in the mind long after the play has finished being the most infuriating and pitying of all the characters.
The second half of the show keeps the pace, intrigue and humour going. The third Act in Darlington’s abode is so well acted and directed and, although the finale was well sign-posted, it still satisfied. The ensemble of men provided some good laughs and the chemistry between them was very good. It almost felt like you were sitting there yourself, among friends. The fine acting and direction continued into the fourth and final Act which involved more superb performances from each of the actors. The end was both emotional and redeeming and left you completely satisfied.
The set, lighting and sound were perfect, the music really setting the scene (and was far enough in the background as not to detract your attention). The central performances were all magnificent. As Lady Windermere, Eden Vansittart kept the whole story grounded and moving along. She was charming, innocent and beautiful and handled the emotional scenes with honesty and heart. Acting in turn with Lord Darlington (played with all naughtiness and charm by Arlo Green), Lord Windermere (Jim Dixon in firm and sturdy Victorian form) and Lady Erlynne, she, and her fellow actors, really brought the scenes to life. Eliza Jones must also be mentioned who, as Lady Agatha, did so much with so little. Yes, mamma, she did.
After a slow start, due entirely to the text, the play picked up at the second act and never slowed down. It was finely directed and wonderfully acted with great sets, lighting and sound. It was a lovely way to spend an afternoon and be reminded of a much simpler time. In the modern world, such a thing is a gift and one to be appreciated.
Steve Shepherdson (www.steveshepherdson.weebly.com)
- : admin
- : 25/06/2016