Young, rich, beautiful and newly-married Lady Windermere seems to have it all.
But everything changes when she’s visited by one of London society’s most notorious gossips who suggests her husband is having an affair with the mysterious Mrs Erlynne.
Things go from bad to worse when her husband insists that Mrs Erlynne should attend Lady Windermere’s 21st birthday ball. Soon nothing is as it seems in this comic thriller, full of intrigue, passion and brilliant one-liners.
WFM went along on Press Night and found this a glittering, must-see production which struck the right note at almost every level.
This dazzling dissection of high society manners and morals is a not-to-be missed treat and one of the best productions I’ve seen at the Royal Exchange.
Set in Royal Exchange’s theatre-in-the-round, the production captured a suitably uppercrust atmosphere with the elegantly minimalist use of furniture (four chairs, a desk and a chaise longue) on a brilliantly-painted floral floor.
Theatregoers are in for a treat from the start of the play which demands and rewards close attention, as the wit and repartee penned by Wilde, and spoken with aplomb by this talented troupe of actors, flows by at such a pace that you can’t afford to let your attention wander for a moment.
For those who feel short-changed by productions staged in modern dress, audiences will relish the use of beautiful costumes, with rich fabrics and glowing colours, which help the audience to immerse itself in the elegant ethos and language of the play.
As far as the performances went, the women carried the day. In the key role of Mrs Erlynne, Lysette Anthony was a force of nature who lit up the stage with her first entrance. Her character’s psychological exposition is at the heart of both the plot and the playwright’s interrogation of society’s moral values.
The complex Mrs Erlynne is a ‘scarlet’ woman, a wounded animal, a loser turned into winner by her fierce ability to survive and to manipulate the hypocrites around her.
The mysterious Mrs Erlynne, the supposedly ‘fallen’ woman, is tormented by her past and desperate to regain her place in society. Clearly used to rejection, she is also used to seducing and winning over her detractors. But Mrs Erlynne’s steely shell of self-protecting confidence, which has helped her survive a decision she made in her past, is touchingly shattered when she realises that someone close to her is in peril.
Listen out for the ‘soundbites’ from Samuel Collings as Lord Darlington (“in the gutter looking up at the stars”) who delivered his lines in just the right way to convey his philosophy to an attentive audience. His character offered a fountain flow of observations with wit and irony and teasing circumlocutions masking a bitterness and rejection of society.
In the title role of Lady Windermere, Laura Rees matured nicely from vulnerability to authority. Bernice Stegers, as the Duchess of Berwick, gave a gushing tour de force of a performance. We got a string of laughs running through the play as the haughty Lady Berwick dragged her long-suffering ‘chatterbox’ daughter, Lady Agatha, (Eliza Collings) through her discord-spreading social whirl.
There were good performances too from the upper class toffs Milo Twomey as Lord Windermere and Cameron Stewart as Lord Augustus Lorton.
This was Oscar Wilde’s first play, a play bristling with deliciously funny one-liners which made him an overnight success when it was first produced in London in 1892.
The director of the play, Greg Hersov, and designer, Ashley Martin-Davis, worked together to bring London high society to life at the Royal Exchange.
In production notes for Lady Windermere’s Fan, designer Ashley Martin-Davies had this to say about the staging of the play:
‘I’ve tried to create a space/stage that visually speaks in a Wildean way – stylish, sensitive but strong, beautiful and reflective, and both masculine and feminine, as well as creating the sense of a theatrical event about to unfold.’
In my view, the play offers a perfect night at the theatre and the sparkling language and the memorable 19th century soundbites, which have passed into the history of the language, such as, ‘I can resist everything but temptation,’ will linger with you long after the play is over.
The play runs until Saturday 23 June. Performances are Monday to Friday at 7.30pm and on Saturday at 8pm. Matinee performances take place on Wednesdays at 2.30pm and on Saturday at 4pm.
Ticket prices start from £9. You can contact the box office on 0161 833 9833.