Lady Windermere’s Fan (Vaudeville Theatre)

Posted: January 22, 2018 in Theatre

Writer: Oscar Wilde      Director: Kathy Burke

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Dominic Dromgoole’s year-long Oscar Wilde season, bringing to the West End plays most of which are never long absent from the West End anyway, continues with this featherlight frippery on themes of Victorian hypocrisy and marital/maternal mishaps. Kathy Burke is not a name that we associate with orthodoxy and her involvement as director could have led to expectations of a radical shake up, but, in the event, she settles for minor trimmings to the text and then lavishes undiluted affection all over the piece to deliver a revival that is a lot more about the stars (of the television variety) than the gutter.

As Mrs Erlynne, secret mother of Lady Windermere, Samantha Spiro is, as always, a delight, but the does not find quite enough of the ruthless streak that is needed for the character to make sense. Kevin Bishop gets star billing as Lord Darlington, Lady W’s lovelorn suitor, but he can do little more than make a very dull man even duller. It takes Jennifer Saunders to bring the evening to life, staking her claim as a Lady Bracknell in waiting, in the role of the haughty, gossiping Duchess of Berwick. In the second half, Saunders contributes a risqué music hall routine to fill in during a set change; it gains rapturous applause, but it has little to do with the play, except for highlighting a double entendre in the title that Wilde may or may not have intended. The Windermeres are, rightly, played by young actors (Grace Molony and Joshua James), but Joseph Marcell, a splendid Lord Lorton, is the only real example of casting against type, which leaves us lamenting that Burke does not take more similar risks.

Paul Wills’ designs are a treat, the costumes and the Windermeres’ home appearing in perfectly coordinated pastel shades, but they are supporting a production that is almost entirely conventional, when something a little more groundbreaking could have been hoped for.

Performance date: 16 January 2018

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