Theatre Review: Lady Windermere’s Fan

Langham Court Theatre's production has shining moments

Morgan Ambrose as Lady Windermere and Michael Romano as Lord Darlington in Lady Windermere's Fan.

By Brent Schaus

arts@mondaymag.com

 

 

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Lord Darlington

With its production of Oscar Wilde’s satire Lady Windermere’s Fan at Langham Court Theatre, the Victoria Theatre Guild achieves some wondrous theatricality. However, if you’ll pardon the sports metaphor, they are like a winning junior league hockey team with deep pockets and blazing talent, but not quite at professional calibre. As a result, Lady Windermere’s Fan has shining moments, but the execution is sometimes weak.

Lady Windermere’s Fan is an example of the “Well-Made Play,” in the tradition of French playwrights Eugene Scribe and George Feydeau. So, the witty plot can be quite ornate. Lady Windermere is about to host a ball. She appears to be in a loving marriage with Lord Windermere, who has bought her the titular fan as a birthday gift. The action ignites when the Duchess of Berwick visits and suggests that “all of London knows” Lord Windermere has been seen spending too much time alone with Mrs. Erlynne. Erlynne has been out of London society for some time  — rumour is that her past is laced with scandal  — and she seeks a way back in. A confrontation ensues between Lord and Lady Windermere, resulting in Lord Windermere inviting Erlynne to Lady Windermere’s party. Shocked and dismayed, Lady Windermere considers leaving her husband for Lord Darlington. Scandal, reputation and hypocrisy are explored as the play heads to its satisfying conclusion.

The production’s costumes, hair, makeup, and set design deserve special mention. A lavish production, one is frequently mesmerized by the beauty and quality of the costumes. The final act, harmonizing the fan and a character’s costume, is a stroke of brilliance. Hair design changes with each scene: for some characters, the design escalates from day-to-day, to the gay formality of a ball, to the harried look of someone on the run. One of the strongest audience reactions occurred when the stage revolved to reveal the next set. It would be easy to watch this production “with the sound off,” as it were, and be quite taken by the sheer spectacle.

Key to a production of Oscar Wilde’s work is the ability to maintain a quick pace, while respecting the intricacies of the language. Wilde was a genius at creating the 19th century equivalent of the sound bite, and Lady Windermere’s Fan is filled with them. Unfortunately, some of these sound bites are lost in this interpretation. The subtle emphasis required, like dynamics in an orchestral score, are overlooked — a mark of an amateur production. Equally distracting is the use of the upper-class London-Oxford-Cambridge accent (sometimes called “received pronunciation”): some actors use it, some don’t, and still others float in and out of the accent. The result can be quite distracting.

Still, there are some very strong performances and a number of wonderful exchanges in the play. Morgan Ambrose as Lady Windermere is ravishing, moving with refined elegance. She conveys Windermere’s wounds with beauty. Elizabeth Whitmarsh is a delight as the slightly batty and interfering Duchess of Berwick. Wendy Magahay as Mrs. Erlynne appears ill-at-ease, at first, in the role of social pariah. As her character arcs towards insight and “heart,” Magahay brings warmth and complexity to the part. One of the finest exchanges in the production takes place between her Erlynne and the always-good Adam Holroyd as Lord Windermere. They find the balance between melodrama, wit and humanity, while keeping the pace moving. Some of the finer performances are in the smallest roles: Alasdair Howie comes closest to a Wildean dandy, Jo Barnes as Lady Plymdale is angular, lovely and menacing (perhaps she’d have been a stronger choice as Mrs. Erlynne?) and Charlie Baird is a delight as the manservant Parker.

In the final analysis, evaluation of the Victoria Theatre Guild’s production depends on whether it’s seen as an amateur, or professional, production. It is easily one of the finest community productions I’ve witnessed. However, by setting their standards so very high, they risk being compared to most professional productions, in which case there is room to grow. For lovers of spectacle, and fans of Oscar Wilde, it is a fine evening of theatre. M

 

Lady Windermere’s Fan

Wed. to Sat. at 8pm, Sat. at 2pm

Until Dec. 8 at Langham Court Theatre

250-384-2142

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

30 years later, Sue Medley’s hit ‘Dangerous Times’ more relevant than ever

Vancouver Island singer/songwriter reflects on her ’90s national hit

Psychological thriller filmed on northern Vancouver Island debuts on AppleTV

‘Woodland’ is set in Haida Gwaii, but was filmed around Port McNeill

Symphony Splash goes virtual, revisits 2018 performance

Organizers postpone live event until Aug. 1, 2021

COVID and a time of isolation: an artist’s personal observation

Campbell River artist Ken Blackburn shares his thoughts on finding inspiration in tough times

Sooke Fine Art Show takes local art to a world stage

People can visit online from July 24 to Aug. 3, and can purchase any art until end of September

Cowichan’s 39 Days of July deemed a success, despite COVID-19

Musical productions live streamed from the Duncan Showroom this year

Gabriola’s Isle of the Arts Festival goes ‘mini’ on 10th anniversary

Gabriola Arts Council presents scaled-down, workshop-only IOTA Mini festival

Sooke Fine Arts Show reaches new audiences with virtual showcase

Voting for People’s Choice Award open until Aug. 3

Mural artists announced for Nanaimo’s inaugural Hub City Walls festival

Local artists Kara Dee Harrison, Russell Morland and Austin Weflen to paint downtown walls

Nanaimo musician Glen Foster releases new music video

‘Brains Brawn and Beauty’ is the latest single from Foster’s album ‘Not Far Away’

Nanaimo artist showing holographic, glow-in-the-dark paintings in Parksville

Pattiann Withapea presents ‘Designs From My Abstract Mind’ at McMillan Arts Centre

New Victoria art show displays 600 collaboratively made postcards from the pandemic

An artist would start a card and then mail it to another who would add to or complete the design

Most Read