by Oscar Wilde.

Royal Exchange Theatre St Ann’s Square M2 7DH To 23 June 2012.
Mon-Fri 7.30pm Sat 8pm Mat Wed 2.30pm Sat 4pm.
Audio-described 16 June 4pm.
BSL Signed 19 June.
Post-show Discussion: 21 June.
Runs 2hr 10min One interval.

TICKETS: 0161 833 9833.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 June.

Clear-sighted view of an Irishman’s view of English Society.
Though performed in impeccable late Victorian costume, Greg Hersov’s revival of Oscar Wilde’s moral and social comedy has a modern feel, Ashley Martin-Davis’s settings, with patterned floor and simple furnishings, providing a minimalism that avoids costume-drama heaviness.

Hersov’s actors aren’t openly anachronistic, but they’re never weighed-down by ‘Victorianism’. So, Samuel Collings’ Lord Darlington has a negligent manner and appearance fitting with his decision to leave England, one of three willing exiles in the play.

Wilde’s wit made him society’s darling. But the possibility of disgrace is never far away. He later wrote about a troubled woman’s benevolent helper, but Darlington’s a bounder. Contrasting his sneering-tongued group are the grand society women, in costume and manner London Society’s cement. Hersov only overplays with the put-upon daughter Agatha, giving her an unconvincingly signalled resentment, while her Australian millionaire fiancée is also uneasily placed in the staging.

But the production reminds how close Wilde and fellow Irish literary success, the socialist Bernard Shaw, could be. Wilde, after all, wrote The Soul of Man Under Socialism, barely a year before Lady Windermere appeared.

Unlike her author, Mrs Erlynne, the only untitled woman in the play, struggles to gain admittance to Society. This blackmailer and potential marriage-wrecker seems that Victorian staple, the ‘woman with a past’. But, with Shavian paradox, she turns out the best-intentioned person around. Lysette Anthony finds due seriousness beneath the initial flattery, and an impassioned concern for Lady Windermere, contrasting the Society darlings’ superficial statements and making the Windermere morality look coldly inconsiderate.

Laura Rees becomes surprisingly swathed in her clothing when venturing out, contrasting her indoor wear, the neck unadorned by showy jewellery. Her set expressions catch the coldness of morality untempered by life. The busy scene in Darlington’s rooms establishes a male, smokers’ atmosphere contrasting the tidy female emphasis of Lady Windermere’s home. As the butt of the not-too-grown-up school boy mockery, Cameron Stewart’s Lord Augustus is admirable, with the asperity of a David Haig.

Hersov has Wilde and Shaw to his credit, showing them complement each other, their bitter pills of moral lessons sugar-coated with humour and wit.

Lady Windermere: Laura Rees.
Parker: Andrew Byatt.
Lord Darlington: Samuel Collings.
Duchess of Berwick: Bernice Stegers.
Lady Agatha Carlisle/Rosalie: Eliza Collings.
Lord Windermere: Milo Twomey.
Mr Hopper: Timothy Knightley.
Lord Augustus Lorton: Cameron Stewart.
Cecil Graham: Oliver Gomm.
Mr Dumby: Benjamin Askew.
Lady Jedburgh: Kate Layden.
Mrs Erlynne: Lysette Anthony.

Director: Greg Hersov.
Designer: Ashley Martin-Davis.
Lighting: Howard Harrison.
Sound: Emma Laxton.
Assistant director: Anna Marsland.

2012-06-11 00:39:30

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