Midway through 1891, burdened with two failed tragedies and a censored play, Oscar Wilde decided it was time to change tack and try his hand at satirical comedy. Lady Windermere’s Fan is his first stage success but it is also an imperfect exercise in form and content, cutting uneasily between mischievous merrymaking and serious social issues.
Indeed, there is a point in the narrative, where one fervently wishes that Lord Windermere had simply told the truth about the woman with whom he is not having an affair and saved everyone a lot of bother. Under Lisa May’s upbeat direction, Patrick J O’Reilly navigates these abrupt shifts with a jaunty, music hall-styled adaptation, played out against Diana Ennis’s lush, magenta-coloured drawing room set.
Out of empty portrait frames of various shapes and sizes pop the grinning faces of the household domestics, who then proceed to caper forward to perform Matthew Reeve’s close harmony ensembles, whisking through the scene changes and laying the ground for the unfolding drama. Newcomer Ruby Campbell brings genuine honesty to the naive, moralistic innocence of the title role, though she and Neill Fleming as the earnest Lord Windermere are a somewhat mismatched couple.
In her pivotal scene with Dagmar Doring’s Mrs Erlynne, both find a touching, unspoken sense of the never-to-be revealed mother-daughter relationship. The other excellent cast members cut loose with dreadful wigs and slick costume changes, working wonders with Wilde’s larger-than-life characters. Among them, it is a real treat to see the talented Angie Waller back on stage and in flying comedic form.