THEATRE REVIEW: Darlinghurst Theatre - Lady Windermere's Fan

Everyone knows about Oscar Wilde's legendary wit, and there's plenty of it to enjoy in Darlinghurst Theatre Company's Lady Windermere's Fan – but that's not all there is to it.
THEATRE REVIEW: Darlinghurst Theatre - Lady Windermere's Fan
Darlinghurst Theatre Company's Lady Windermere's Fan Everyone knows about Oscar Wilde's legendary wit, and there's plenty of it to enjoy in Lady Windermere's Fan – but that's not all there is to it. This play has a surprising amount of drama, of heart and soul and of tender moments in which the characters find things within themselves they hadn't previously believed were there. The story begins with Margaret Windermere (Beccy Iland, who adapted the play together with director Nicholas Papademetriou), a happily married young mother, receiving a birthday visit from her friend Sylvia (a fantastic Emily Weare) who tells her that her husband (Gus Murray, who looks like Prince William except better) has frequently been seen in the company of a certain Mrs Erlynne (May Lloyd), a woman of questionable character. Apparently, everyone knows – except Margaret. Initially, Margaret doesn't want to believe what her friend is telling her, but then she finds proof. Or does she? With the doubts about her marriage taking root in Margaret's heart, her life threatens to spiral out of control as Mrs Erlynne works her way inside Margaret's circle of friends – and into her marriage. Margaret turns to family friend Robert Darlington (Matthew Holmes) for help, but his motives aren't entirely pure either... Apart from downsizing the cast by a few characters, director Nicholas Papademetriou has moved the play from Victorian England to 1950s Sydney – an interesting concept as far as the parallels in morality and the importance of appearances go. The Director's Note in the programme explains this quite convincingly, and it certainly makes sense on paper. Watching the play, however, I couldn't help but feel transported back to England by all the British wit and Wildean tone" therefore any mention of "Sydney" where you would expect "London" felt jarring, snapping me out of the atmosphere of the play every time. This went so far as to make me wonder why the British climate would be too hot for Mrs Erlynne, when of course in this adaptation she means Australia. At least for me, the play and its inherent Britishness simply don't translate to another country, another continent and another society terribly well, and it's precisely that combination of British stuffiness and wit I love about it. Apart from that, however, this is a great production. The beautiful and clever stage design by Karla Urizar contrasts Margaret's home, where most of the play takes place, with Robert Darlington's rooms (Act III). While the Windermere residence is kept mostly in white, representing Margaret's innocence and her absolute belief in good and bad, the parallel, but much more colourful and masculine design of Darlington's home feels more urban, more worldly and dangerous" the orange chair Margaret sits in clashes violently with her pink dress as if to ask whether she really belongs there. Some rare insecurities aside, the cast, from small to big roles, is excellent. Jess Norman doesn't exactly have a lot to do in a double role as Margaret's maid Rosalie and Sylvia's young daughter Agatha, but she does it so well that those characters will stay in the audience's minds for a while – as will her bumbling American admirer, James Hopper (a very funny Andy Cunningham, even if his accent sounds more Canadian than American) and a lovable John Derum as Sylvia's brother, Sir Augustus Lorton. While Gus Murray as Arthur Windermere doesn't have the wittiest of roles in this play, he is a great dramatic actor, giving life and soul to the trials of a husband who finds himself thrown into a very difficult situation. May Lloyd shines as the tough, calculating single woman who ends up discovering she has a heart after all. Even though Lady windermere's Fan tries to keep up the suspense about what is really going on, it's not exactly hard to figure out most of the story fairly early on – but then that's not what Lady Windermere's Fan is about. Apart from offering a plethora of Oscar Wilde's classic quotes and witticisms that are extremely amusing to watch, it digs deeper and asks the hard questions: about morality and its pitfalls, about the shattering of beliefs about what is right and wrong, about prejudice and about the consequences of living the life we want. Darlinghurst Theatre - Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Nicholas Papademetriou and Beccy Iland. Venue: Darlinghurst Theatre, 19 Greenknowe Avenue, Potts Point 13 March - 11 April Tuesday - Saturday at 8pm, Sundays at 5pm Matinee Performances: Saturday 4 & 11 April at 3pm Tickets Adults: $37, Concession $32 Bookings: www.darlinghursttheatre.com

Elisabeth Meister

Monday 16 March, 2009

About the author

Elisabeth Meister is a Sydney-based translator and writer.