“We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
This week, I went to see Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde, which was produced by the Everyman Theatre Company with Michael Twomey directing. It was an enjoyable play.
The only work by Wilde I am familiar with is The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Lady Windermere’s Fan is set in the same 19th-century London society and it was great to see it in action. Wilde’s play can be seen as a critique of this society who is highly concerned with class and keeping up the appearances and whose favourite pastime is gossip.
“although they never talk scandal, they – well, of course – they remark on it to everyone”
Everybody in London assumes that Lord Windermere is having an affair with Mrs Erlynne, except his own wife. On her birthday, the affair is revealed to her. Despite her disbelief, Lady Windermere is forced to face this fact when she discovers that her husband has given large sums of money to Mrs Erlynne. As Lord Windermere invites Mrs Erlynne to Lady Windermere’s birthday party, Lady Windermere decides to run away with Lord Darlington, her fervent admirer. However, she is stopped by Mrs Erlynne, whose past is a secret Lord Windermere wants to hide from his wife. Although Lady Windermere never learns this secret, she is convinced by Mrs Erlynne of her husband’s innocence. Most importantly, she discovers that the world is not divided between good and bad people.
Although the beginning was a bit slow, everything contributed to a plot that was intriguing. There were many twists and not a minute of boredom. Many moments in the play were hilarious, such as when the Duchess (Ronnie O’Shaughnessy) reveals the affair to Lady Windermere (Rose Donovan) and begins rambling about men:
“And they never grow any better. Men become old, but they never become good.”
One of my favourite moments was in act three, when the five men wittingly discuss women and their society. It was full of repartee and humour and was particularly well acted.
“Oh! gossip is charming! History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality. Now, I never moralise. A man who moralises is usually a hypocrite, and a woman who moralises is invariably plain. There is nothing in the whole world so unbecoming to a woman as a Nonconformist conscience. And most women know it, I’m glad to say.”
The play reflects on issues such as love and marriage, good and bad, vanity and pleasure. Lady Windermere, who is the epitome of innocence at the beginning of the play, discovers that you cannot divide the world between good and bad people, that there is a bit of both in each of us.
I thought the acting was good. Vanessa Hyde was particularly impressive in the role of Mrs Erlynne. I also enjoyed the performance of Caroline Murphy. She plays a minor role as Lady Agatha and does not speak many lines, but her attitude as the Duchess’ docile daughter was well enacted.
Overall, it was an entertaining evening.