Star rating – 6/10
The wit and sheer brilliance of Oscar Wilde’s famed one-liners needs to be brought out by a strong, almost Shakespearian cast, with authority and perfect timing. But in the Royal Exchange’s latest production of Lady Windermere’s Fan, Greg Herzov is directing a curate’s egg of a cast, in one of Wilde’s less consistently brilliant plays.
The upright and scandal free, two years married, Lady Windermere feels her world being rocked when she is told of her husband’s indiscretions with a mysterious woman. Bernice Stegers plays the Duchess of Berwick, who is the one to impart this bad news to her. The role is a peach, with some of the funniest lines of the play, but unfortunately one half of the audience was laughing, the other half straining to hear what was being said, as her voice projection was just not strong enough. This is often a criticism of theatres in the round, but not one that I have encountered at the Royal Exchange before.
And some of the other main characters in the first half of the play were also a bit less powerful that they needed to be. Wilde’s witty writing needs more precise delivery than some of this cast managed. Annoying little details just weren’t right – like some of the men’s’ shoes being too modern. Again this is most unlike the Exchange, and a bad sign when attention to detail has lapsed.
After the interval the action and calibre of performance were ratcheted up, thanks in part to Oliver Gomm playing the minor but hilarious role of Cecil. He is as excellent here as when he starred in Charley’s Aunt in 2010. Gomm has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand, and is a very talented actor. Lysette Anthony is wonderful and commanding as the beautiful Mrs Erlynne, whose secret the play revolves around.
This morality tale is not one of Wilde's best plays (comparisons to The Importance of Being Earnest are unfortunate but inevitable, and this is just not half as clever or funny); and it is not one of the Royal Exchange’s best productions, but it still picks up its pace to entertain enough to make it worth a visit.