Jennifer Saunders Is Absolutely Fabulous In Oscar Wilde Play
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Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan is an awkward mixture of social problem drama and drawing room comedy. The story of Lady Windermere suspecting her husband of having an affair with Mrs Erlynne, “a woman with a past”, creaks badly. But the play also contains some of Wilde’s wittiest epigrams such as “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”.
Not surprisingly with her comic background, and with her sitcom-stuffed cast, director Kathy Burke foregrounds the comedy over the melodrama, without making the two work together. This is a shame because although the plot may seem absurd to modern audiences, Wilde does have interesting things to say about morality and hypocrisy in a work that is notably sympathetic towards women’s vulnerable position in late Victorian society.
Backed by a fan-shaped window on an elegant but refreshingly uncluttered set (designed by Paul Wills), the cast are a bit hit and miss with the social satire in a moderately entertaining production that uses a slimmed-down version of the text — Wilde lite. Grace Molony does well in the straight title role to make us feel her dilemma, though Samantha Spiro struggles to give the flirtatious Mrs Erlynne emotional depth.
In her first appearance in the West End for 25 years, the scene-stealing Jennifer Saunders has a ball as the domineering Duchess of Berwick, including singing an especially written entr’acte music-hall-style song full of innuendo, “Keep your hands off my fan”.
Lady Windermere’s Fan, Vaudeville Theatre, Strand. Until 7 April 2018. Tickets £19.50–£75.
Last Updated 26 January 2018