John Barker goes Wilde about Lady Windermere’s Fan at the Everyman Theatre.
The works of Oscar Wilde have established themselves firmly within the ranks of great literature. The recent coming of one of his best-loved pieces of comic theatre, Lady Windermere’s Fan, to Cork’s Everyman Palace saw crowds of great variety flock to witness a spectacle of his classic work. Brought by the Everyman Theatre Company under the direction of Michael Twomey, the production hoped to establish the grandeur of set, humour of script and elegance of character associated with Wilde’s work.
A comedy of four acts, it was clear on opening night that the energy and comfort in performance was to pick up in the later of these. The production opens with a scene between Lady Windermere and her admirer Lord Darlington, in which their lustful relationship quickly becomes apparent. The set is of impressive grandeur as are the costumes, immediately setting the play in upper class Victorian society.
The timid and fragility of Lady Windermere is brought to us by Rose Donovan with an uncanny Brigit Jones accent. I couldn’t help but love it, however it did hinder my ability to take her seriously as this upper-class, and perfect-embodiment-of-what-a-woman-should-be character. Donovan did encapsulate the meekness of Windermere’s character, however as stronger characters appeared on stage; her presence became lost and overshadowed.
Ronnie O’Shaughnessy stole the first half with her hilarious portrayal of the Duchess of Berwicke. Providing a flawless example of societies gossiping side, there is no secret to be made about O’Shaughnessy’s riveting performance. In a script where much comedy went over my head, I found myself willing the Duchess to return to each scene with one of her sniping and softly bitchy lines.
Post interval turned the focus greatly onto Lady Windermere and Mrs Erlynne, her biological mother. Despite Lord Windermere (Ian McGuirk) knowing this fact, he refused to divulge it with Lady Windermere, henceforth bringing about an air of great suspicion about his character. In a ‘movie moment’ as we are exposed to the truth, we question why he could not have told Lady Windermere and avoided the arguments and accusations of an affair bestowed on him. I guess he needed to take the unintelligent route in order to create the consequential storyline.
Act III supplied us with a gentlemen’s scene, in which we saw a group of society’s dignitaries talking about women, drinking whiskey and nodding off to sleep. The stereotypical scene was a highlight as all involved played their parts brilliantly and to utterly convincing effect.
Bringing the show to its climax, Act IV brought about sterling performance from Donovan, McGuirk, Vanessa Hyde (Mrs Erlynne) and the side-splittingly funny David Coon (Lord Augustus ‘Tuppy’ Lorton). Moments of heightened tension, revelations and comic peaks wrapped up the play in a spectacular way.
With few flaws, the worst being the lack of stage hands and cast involvement in scene changes and the moving of various props, the play was a great success. The production went from strength to strength as the plot progressed and credit must be given to all involved. The Everyman Theatre Company has once again reiterated the fact that they are ones to be watched.