Review by Judith Robinson
The Shaw Festival’s production of Lady Windermere’s Fan is pure magic. The 1890’s British upper crust comes to life in formal balls, drawing room debates, scandalous outings and a hint of romance. Although Oscar Wilde’s strength lies in his witty lines, the imaginative set designs of Teresa Przybylski and the fanciful costumes of William Schmuck make this production visually stunning.
The dramatic elements combine in perfect balance in a mastery of ensemble-playing.
Director Peter Hinton blends the performances together like changing colours in a kaleidoscope—in a collage of witty comments, soulful poses, and sweeping movements. It is the Victorian era society as a whole, not the individuals, which Hinton presents, in a chorus of criticisms and charming persuasions.
This is a world in which young Lady Windermere (Marla McLean); the main character, clearly does not belong. In her plain white gown, she stands out against the bold colours and excessive ruffles of her peers. With forthright innocence and gullibility, the twenty-one-year old believes everything she hears, and acts authentically, daring to challenge the approval of the pernicious pack. Wilde offers no clues as to her origins. He merely shows, through her, the cost of daring to be “different.”
Playwright Oscar Wilde’s plot is entirely believable—and his insights into human nature are second to none. His provides us with a perceptive analysis of a stratum of society few of us get a chance to glimpse. From the masterful commands of Duchess of Berwick (Corrine Koslo) to the whimpering sentiment of Lord Augustus Lorton (Jim Mezon) all of the characters are believable, even though what they say may appear to be senseless. Koslo and Mezon skillfully portray opposite poles of the Victorian upper crust—from the overpowering self-righteous bitch to the lascivious lecher.
The secret password to enter this closed club is not wealth, but an agreed upon tolerance based on superficial concerns. These people tolerate each other because they enjoy each other’s company—even when they lie, cheat and behave abominably. The worst thing, they all agree, is dullness. One must be amusing above all. Goodness is not a quality the establishment cultivates.
Teresa Przybylski’s wonderful sets are a clear continuation of the multi-layered text. The sweeping symbolic sets with undertones of black and white—represent the closed mindset of the upper classes. The open window in Lady Windermere’s drawing room highlights the fresh air of new ideas which passionately stir her spirit, in the same manner that a strong breeze makes the curtains dance. The crowded bookshelves in Lord Windermere’s (Martin Happer) study reach up to the ceiling signifying his intellectual pursuits and bookishness. Black drops act like the aperture of a camera lens—creating small squares as they open and close after each scene, indicating the square, narrow focus and mind set of the time.
The acting, directing, set and costume designs, and the wonderful script all work together to create the impression of a visit to a private Victorian club. It’s a pleasant stroll through a museum where the wax figures come to life and have tea with you. It is a visually stunning masterpiece.
Lady Windermere’s Fan is playing at the Festival Theatre until October 19th.