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.
Women with a past and a future, Zofja Zolna as Mrs Erlynne and Rachael Louise Pickard as Lady Windermere. Pictures: Roy Palmer.
Lady Windermere’s Fan
Hall Green Little Theatre
OSCAR Wilde’s first commercially successful play, Lady Windermere, a play about a good woman, was also his first comedy and the first to use his trademark satirising of the upper classes.
He fills the stage with outlandish characters, old duffers, minor peers, domineering duchesses, snobs, social climbers – in short, the sort of upper and upper middle classes who made up the audience at the 1892 premiere at St James’s Theatre in the upmarket area of the West End.
They and their manners and social mores are his target, holding them up to gentle ridicule so he can make more serious points and observations.
With Lady Windermere we open with her ladyship on her 21st birthday with Rachael Louise Pickard giving us a very business-like and efficient young wife to her obviously wealthy husband, Lord Windermere, an elegant performance from Steven Brear as a suave, gentleman about town, but he does show some teeth at the end when he feels betrayed.
It’s happy birthday and happy families – until Lady Windermere’s friend, the Duchess of Berwick arrives and, in a friendly, matter of fact way, tells her that her husband is not only playing away from home with a woman with quite a reputation, a certain Mrs Erlynne, but is also giving her large sums of money – then it’s a matter of ‘ah well, must be going – see you at your birthday ball tonight dear, bye’.
Lord Windermere, played by Steven Brear with Mrs Erlynne
It is a lovely performance by Ros Davies, who, incidentally, played Geraldine Grainger in The Vicar of Dibley with Pickard playing dipsy Alice.
Davies’s Duchess spreads scandal with gay abandon dropping her bombshell along with her view that all men are bad, so extra curricular dalliances were the norm, then cheerfully going on her way. Pickard then takes us on an emotional roller coaster as she goes through anger and despair, hope and devastation.
Then there is her rather wimpy friend, would-be lover-boy Lord Darlington, played by Richard Scott, who flatters her endlessly, despite being asked to stop, and offers her an escape from an apparently adulterous marriage into his ever-ready arms. The irony of one adultery being solved by another being lost on him.
But then men at the end of the 19th century had their own rules and even have their own scene after being thrown out of their club in the early hours and retiring to Darlington’s rooms.
It is the same crowd as at the Birthday Ball with Windermere along with the cynical and wonderfully grumpy Mr Dumby, played by HGLT regular Jon Richardson, Cecil, played by Dan Ashford and a wonderful performance from Paul Holtom as Lord Augustus, Tuppy, who is besotted by Mrs Erlynne, wants to marry her and will believe nothing bad about her, even when she is caught red handed – or in this case- fan handed.
Holtom gives us a wonderful old codger in love with both Mrs Erlynne and, it appears, fine Scotch.
So what of Mrs Erlynne . . . it would be ungentlemanly to reveal the complete plot, so suffice to say she is a still attractive, flame haired woman some 20 years older than Lady Windermere who arrived on the scene some six months ago.
Zofja Zolna is a delight as the mystery woman in what is a rather sad part, if truth be told. Zolna is perfectly convincing as the engaging stranger having both men and women eating out of her hand at the ball and equally convincing when she battles hard to save Lady Windermere from what would be a fatal mistake.
Lady Windermere with would-be lover Lord Darlington played by Richard Scott
This is a tale of shady pasts, with hints of adultery, plenty of gossip and scandal and plenty of wit, perhaps not as much as we find in The Importance of Being Ernest but enough to amuse and all told in Wilde’s always elegant language.
The play is in four acts and director Roy Palmer has cleverly promoted stagehands into below stairs staff turning scene changes into little vignettes, amusing in their own right, and even drawing a round of applause for their final, precision change. Palmer has also designed a rather elegant set on narrow trucks, white on black for the Windermere’s house and black on white for Lord Darlington’s rooms, all based on a design by Jacob L Heger in his master’s thesis at the University of Nebraska. Simple but very effective.
Part of the design is a rather fine fan shaped fireguard, created by Palmer, which is a constant reminder of the silent star of the play, the fan given to Lady Windermere by her husband for her birthday, which was to cause so much trouble and anguish before everyone, or almost everyone, could live happily ever after.
A mention too for excellent costumes which all looked authentic. It was a production with plenty of clever touches, such as when Mrs Erlynne throws an incriminating letter in the fire, Linda Neale in lighting gives us a flicker and a flare in the fireplace. A clever addition in Paul Hartop and Palmer’s lighting design.
Megan Mack and Dan Ashford also produced a fine sound design with, for example, enough background music to suggest dancing and a ball offstage, but not so much as to battle with dialogue – often a difficult balancing act and they got it spot on.
It’s a fine production, well-acted with a well measured, elegant pace, fitting for the society portrayed. Classic Wilde and well worth seeing. To 08-04-17