It’s always a risk attempting to ‘modernise’ a classic work, but this production carefully toes the line of ‘updating’ its material, with tongue-in-cheek references to the contemporary attitude of simply throwing in technology to make something ‘current’, and our reliance upon social media to stay relevant. Lady Windermere checking her husband’s bank books on her MacbookPro, and her butler Parker becoming a ‘savvy social media assistant’, were nice touches, injecting humour into these moments whilst maintaining a self-awareness of the silliness and incongruity that often arises following an attempt to relocate historical works in the modern day. As the production went on these allusions to contemporary living became absent, but I felt this helped retain focus at the core of the play, and demonstrated that there was no reliance on social media gags to keep the work witty.
Although I was initially sceptical, I thought that the production’s movement between the ‘real world’ and that of Wilde provided a fresh take on a well-known and frequently performed play, and shed some light on the difficulties that are often faced by directors attempting to revamp old favourites. Maya Yousif shone as ‘O.W.’, displaying the melodrama of directors famed in the theatrical world with ease.
The performances from the rest of the cast were strong across the board. I particularly enjoyed Anna Wright’s Lady Windermere; Wright exuded the confidence and wit required of Wilde’s protagonist, whilst still allowing for a sense of vulnerability as the story developed. Indeed, Ella Blackburn was equally impressive in her role as Mrs Erlynne. A woman of a questionable moral stance, Blackburn boasted the calculating and coy qualities of her character, whilst still eliciting a sense of sympathy from the audience during the more sincere and significant moments of the production. Benedict Clarke sported another stand-out performance. His comic timing was impeccable throughout, and his short-lived role as the Australian Hopper was just as amusing as his disgruntled and ‘typecast’ butler Parker.
Lady Windermere’s ‘rave’ was very carefully managed. I often find myself cringing at the ‘dance breaks’ indulged in during plays, but the cast pulled this moment off with the help of the production’s technical team, headed by Johnny King. Indeed, the technical aspects of the show were well-executed throughout, enhancing the ‘modern’ elements of the show that allowed the comedic elements to flourish. I wondered perhaps if the show could have benefitted from an interval; I felt that the energy of the play’s latter half would have been motivated by a short pause, although this might be symptomatic of my decision to watch the performance following a long day. The cast managed well nonetheless, but the more serious moments of the final scenes could have been bettered had there been a slight gap in the narrative.
The play itself prompts the question whether this production is ‘just as Oscar Wilde would have intended it?’ Perhaps not, but Rhiannon Shaw’s adaptation of Lady Windermere’s Fan is certainly an enjoyable one, and carefully bridges the gap between our contemporary climate and the world of Wilde.