The King’s Head, Islington.
Lady Windermere’s social circle is transplanted to the 1930s in this elegant production from Ruby In The Dust.
Oscar Wilde had a huge hit with ‘‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’’ in 1982, which deals with deception, social standing, morality and the impossible complications of married life. Outcast Mrs Erlynne is attempting a re-entry to the world – and her frank explanation of the misery and humiliation that accompanies rejection by society must later have seemed dreadfully prescient, after Wilde’s own spectacular fall from grace.
Director Linnie Reedman’s cast seem a little edgy in the first half, but they gather confidence as the show progresses. Reedman has moved the action from the Victorian age to the 1930s, and there’s a terrific soundtrack of inter-war hits overseen by musical arranger and sound designer Joe Evans, and on-stage piano playing from Nathan Lubbock-Smith’s Cecil – who also gets some of the night’s best laughs when the men gather at Lord Darlington’s home. A scene-stealing rendition of Ivor Novello’s ‘And Her Mother Came Too’ comes from Graham Hoadly as spluttering, gullible Lord Augustus, who is so very much not part of the ‘modern age’ referred to by the younger characters.
Ellie Nunn begins as a spirited and confident Lady Windermere full of moral certainties – scarcely the ‘child’ her protective husband calls her – which makes her later despair all the more touching as she surveys the apparent wreck of her marriage. Nunn also shows a sure-footed comic ability in Lady Windermere’s awkward preparations for the return of Lord Darlington, as she arranges herself on the sofa in a variety of poses suitable for a woman about to fling aside her name and reputation for the promise of love.
It’s the mischievous Duchess, the voice of experience, who sets the ball rolling with her warnings about husbands who visit dubious ladies several times a week. Jo Ashe is a delicious Duchess, full of vigour, with a thoroughly naughty twinkle in her eye as she sets about wrecking Lady Windermere’s happiness – with the best of intentions, of course.
Ruth Redman is elegant and poised as Mrs Erlynne, though perhaps a little more sinuous wickedness earlier on might help make the contrast of her selfless fan-retrieval in Lord Darlington’s drawing room more striking.
Lord Windermere is played with upright steadfastness by Steven Clarke, while the handsome Ruari Cannon makes a dashing, devoted Lord Darlington.
The costumes and set, all gleaming silk and plush furnishings, are by Belle Mundy, who evokes the glamour of 1930s high society in this very limited space.
There are no moral winners in ‘‘Lady Windermere’s Fan’’ but, as Lord Darlington sensibly points out, “No, we are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
First published 8 August 2014, whatsonstage.com