Lady Windermere’s Fan (New Farm Nash Theatre)
The Brunswick Room, Merthyr Road Uniting Church
July 14 – August 5
Oscar Wilde’s ‘play about a good woman’, “Lady Windermere’s Fan” is the perfect piece for a Sunday afternoon on-stage comedy… as perfect as the pink roses that the titular Mrs Windermere (Corinne Fixter) is pruning pre-show as the audience enters. It is all very gentile in manners and manner, even down to Brenda White’s well-chosen costumes, as the lady of the house entertains visitors ahead of her birthday ball that evening, proudly showing the fan that her husband (Chris Robinson) has bought her as gift.
As the plot progresses, Mrs Windamere’s friend Lord Darlington (Scott West) compliments her in poor attempt to (at least initially) disguise his romantic feelings and Mrs Duchess Carlisle (Phillipa Bowe) shares some close-to-home gossip. Unbelieving of the claim that her husband has been making repeated visits (and monetary payments) the complex Mrs Erlynne (Sally Jenkins), Mrs Windamere dismisses the claims, but sets upon investigating and ultimately confronting her husband. The story develops with revelation to the audience regarding Mrs Erlynne’s identity and a consequential reminder of how appearances can be deceptive.
As Mrs Windamere and her husband, Fixter and Robinson anchor the show with both their wonderful rapport and fiery conflict. Bowe makes for a memorable Duchess Carlisle too, animated in her Lady Bracknell type judgment, passive aggression and the gossipy suggestions which set off a chain of events. Still, as is usually the case with Wilde’s aristocratic satires, everything becomes secondary to the script and it is easy to appreciate the play’s role as the initiator of Wilde’s huge popularity as a playwright. The themes are adult in their social ridicule and intellectually explored through the contrasting symbolism of the fan of its title, which becomes as much a sign of deception as one of decorum. And the writing allows characters to engage in the most delightfully witty banter about relationships and marriage.
“Lady Windermere’s Fan” was first performed in London in 1892 as a satire on Victorian morality and gender double-standards. Yet, it is remains relevant in its juxtaposition of high society and popular culture and human desire for scandal at the expense of others. To relocate it to a Brisbane setting seems, therefore, unnecessary and ultimately serves only to jar the work from its bubble of English manners, so maintained throughout all other aspects.
The four act play breezes through in an easy two hours with just the right amount of character and charisma, never taking itself too seriously (because ‘life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about’). Indeed, its charm serves not only to remind audiences of the masterful wit and imagination of Oscar Wilde, but also gives chance to enjoy a humour-filled couple of hours as part of New Farm Nash Theatre’s ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’ 2017 season.