Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Wit on the Wilde side

In rehearsal, the pillars of high society: Back row left to right -Alex Parkinson as Lord Darlington, Chris Kay as Mr Cecil Graham, Dan Taylor as Mr Hopper and Terry Cooper Day as Parker the Butler; front row: Brett Westwood as Lord Windermere and Rock Salt as Lord Augustus Lorton.

Lady Windermere’s Fan

The Nonentities

Rose Theatre, Kidderminster


WIT with bite became a hallmark of Oscar Wilde’s plays, first seen in Lady Windermere’s Fan, the first of his comedies and his first major success.

At its premiere in 1892 is was poking fun at the upper reaches of society with its social season, its manners, hypocrisies, insincerities, insecurities, affectations and its rather eccentric views on marriage.

Wilde hit his targets with the precision of a surgeon and although the targets may no longer be there, Victorian morals and values having gone out of fashion, the wit is still much in evidence, or at least should be.

And this is perhaps where this production perhaps falls down a little. Too often Wilde’s witty little gems, and there are plenty, were lost in conversation, becoming a matter of fact exchange in polite chat.

They are worth more, and although a clearing of the throat, move to centre stage, hand on breast declaration might be over the top, a little more emphasis, an inflection here and there would not have gone amiss, after all these are the play’s punch lines, the laughs, the comedy.

This is Wilde showing an audience how clever and entertaining he is and I suspect Oscar would not have allowed his words of wit, spoken by his characters, to hide so completely so often among general conversation.

For those who do not know the play Lady Windermere, married two year’s and on the eve of her 21st birthday party, is told by the society gossip The Duchess of Berwick, played with a delightful enthusiasm for tittle tattle by Lynn Ravenhill, that her husband is playing away as one might say.

Marika Farr as Lady Windermere and Sandy Tudor as Mrs Erlynne in rehearsal

Her visitor, Lord Darlington, Alex Parkinson, had earlier hinted as much but it was the Duchess who put flesh on the rattling bones of scandal.

The experienced Marika Farr as Lady Windermere brought a sense of injustice and betrayal as the woman scorned flouncing about the splendidly simple upper crust set in her bustle waving the birthday gift fan that was to become so integral to the plot..

Her husband, his Lordship, played with a sort of exasperated air of a man both found out and wrongly accused, by Brett Westwood, has the burden of not telling his wife the truth, which in turn makes it more difficult to deny the affair particularly as he has been giving the other woman, a Mrs Erlynne, substantial sums of money.

When Mrs Erlynne finally arrives at the party, invited by Lord Windermere under protests not far short of death threats from his wife, we expect fireworks but they fail to ignite.

Mrs Erlynne, played with a delightful charm by Sandy Tudor, is enchanting to all the society women and beguiling to all the men, the belle of the ball, or at least the small party Lady Windermere insisted was all she was having.

Amid the gusts we met the Australian Mr Hopper, played by Dan Taylor, who was deemed suitable i.e. rich enough to marry the duchess’s daughter Lady Agatha at the end of the season, but put his chances on a knife edge by wanting to go back to Australia. Lady Agatha, played by Hannah Tolley, we were told by her mother was a real chatterbox, although we never hear her allowed to say anything but yes or no ma’am.

Bob Graham is a larger than life and somewhat unctuous Mr Dumby while Chris Kay is a servant of hedonism as Cecil Graham.

As the party breaks up Lady Windermere has a decision to make stay with her husband or go off to Lord Darlington, who in a typical Wilde twist, having been asked by her ladyship to be her friend, instead, has taken advantage of her tattered emotions to profess his undying love for her, and chucked in the fact he is leaving the country for ever the next day as a sort of emotional leverage. Her Ladyship asks for friendship and receives an offer of immorality, a dilemma which meant more in 1892 than it does now.

The decision is made and It is then we learn of Mrs Erlynne’s secret as she battles to save Lady Windermere from her own fate, sacrificing her own reputation, almost, in the process. That damn fan again.

Lynn Ravenhill as the Duchess of Berwick and Dan Taylor as the Australian Mr Hopper

The reputation is salvaged or at least repaired a little by Lord Augustus Lorton, Tuppy, played by the splendidly named Rock Salt, who seems a man desperate for love and has asked for Mrs Erlynne’s hand. He will, it seems, believe any excuse or explanation she offers no matter what the scandalmongers might say. That is what lover, or perhaps lack of it, will do to a man.

So Lady Windermere never knows the full story as we know it but she does know her husband was not having an affair so can live happily ever after while the scarlet women, Mrs Erlynne, we have discovered is a bad woman made good.

The first act had perhaps too many prompts and the play did lack a little pace, picking up a little in the middle but never seeming to build up a natural rhythm

With the first night out of the way though  the performance had enough good points to suggest that will soon be rectified particularly with a director who is closer to Oscar than most.

Ross Workman played Wilde in The Nonentities excellent production of To Meet Oscar Wilde and, just to complete the circle, the director of that production was Marika Farr, who is in turn being directed by Workman here.

The set, by Keith Higgins and Mike Lawrence, is simple and gives a satisfying illusion of up market London apartments in the 1890s and full marks to the wardrobe department  with Carol Wright, Jan Eglinton, Donna Abram and Alix Abram who provided authentic looking costumes for both evening and day wear for a cast of 17. To 01-03-14.

Roger Clarke 

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