Scandal abounds in that breeding ground for malicious rumour, which is Oscar Wilde’s depiction of the annual “London Season”. This was where the rich, spoilt toffs of the country all gather at cliquey Ton parties every spring time. The young ladies must find suitable husbands and they talk about the unlucky poor souls who have done something to break the rigid and often hypocritical code of conduct.
Amongst this vicious crowd are the sweet, young Lord and Lady Windermere, who are uniquely devoted to one another. When Lord Darlington propositions her, hinting that her husband has been playing around, Lady Windermere talks at great length about how she was brought up with rigid ideals, and how she deplores modern manners and that people (particularly women) are either “good” or “bad”. The young Lady Windermere, of course, puts herself in the former category. It’s clear that something is about to happen to test her judgemental smugness.
Sure enough, the lives of herself and her husband are turned upside-down over the next 24 hours. Not only does her husband apparently have a financially draining mistress – the beautiful and notorious Mrs Erlynne – mystifyingly, he wants his wife to invite her to her birthday party.
Lady Windermere’s Fan is a play that doesn’t have a huge amount of psychological depth. It’s not as funny as The Importance of Being Ernest, and it isn’t a biting satire like some of Wilde’s other works. It only mildly pokes fun at the banality of the upper echelons. It does, however, have some of Wilde’s most famous sarcastic non-sequiturs, like “I can resist everything except temptation”.
There isn’t a huge amount of psychological depth in the characters either. And Autumn Ellis as Lady Windermere hasn’t really hit on a way of making a very insipid character more sparky or interesting as a heroine.
That aside, Turn of the Wheel have come up with an enjoyable evening’s entertainment at the Bridewell Theatre. The old and glamorous world of the London Ton is vividly brought to life, with some very fun lines and beautiful 1920s costumes (it’s all been shifted from the 1890s). Perhaps most interesting is trying to figure out whether Wilde had other things in mind when he talked of society dividing people into “good” and “bad” unfairly.
Mastoor Khan is a writer living in London.
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