Wilde gets strong dose of barber shop pizazz

Ruby Campbell, Paul Boyd and Daithi Mac Suibhne in Lady Windermere's Fan
Ruby Campbell, Paul Boyd and Daithi Mac Suibhne in Lady Windermere's Fan

THEATRE REVIEW: Lady Windermere’s Fan @ The MAC

THIS production of Oscar Wilde’s famously witty comedy of manners from the Bruiser Theatre Company is given added vim with the use of melody and a glorious self-conscious theatricality which speaks to the Wildean sense of the performativity of personality - the masks required for smooth runnings within ‘society’, that golden circle fed on gossip, hypocrisy, murmurings of scandal and pretence. A Greek chorus with a barber shop sound contextualised the action and signposted each act, then at crucial moments of tension - as when Lady Windermere (Ruby Campbell) suspects her husband of infidelity - Wilde’s lines were lifted beautifully into melody, the work of composer and musical director Matthew Reeve. Both he and director Lisa May deserve massive credit for putting such an original and uplifting spin on this nineteenth century masterpiece, proving themselves most alive to its rambunctious humour and camp, decadent sensibility. The latter is perhaps most embodied in the dandyish Lord Darlington (played excellently by Paul Boyd), who sounds like a mouthpiece for Wilde himself, and has many of the now immortal lines: “I can resist everything except temptation”; “Who are the people the world takes seriously? All the dull people one can think of”; and most memorably: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” It is impossible not to fall in love with this lapidary language anew.

Mrs Erlynne, she at the centre of all scandal and mystery, who, to be fair, didn’t look at all “like an edition de luxe of a wicked French novel” as she is described in the text, is admirably played with understated power by Dagmar Doring; wily, manipulative, her charms lay in her energy and poise. Daithi Mac Suibhne was hilarious as a slow-witted Lady Agatha, then Parker the butler, then the expensively besuited Cecil Graham, rattling out his smart alec sentiments (“Scandal is gossip made tedious by morality”; “I like talking to a brick wall - it’s the only thing in the world that never contradicts me!”) in the most clipped accent, looking like something from the Great Gatsby, cigarette holder at the perfect angle. Meanwhile, Angie Waller showed fabulous range in swinging between the uptight twitterings of the Duchess of Berwick and the throaty cliches of the rotund, love-lorn Lord Augustus. This doubling and tripling of characters, swift changing of hats, wigs, moustaches, skirts, trousers, accents, ensured the audience was always aware of the artificiality of the piece, the production values providing the best complement to Wilde’s aphoristic language, which is obviously too decoratively packed with wit and poetry to flow as everyday chatter.

The set, designed by Diana Ennis, played up to the high theatricality of the direction stupdendously, the versatile backdrop a wall painted in deep red, scattered with a collection of golden window frames with curtains that opened and closed at moments as characters poked their heads through to deliver lines, sing, or pass Lady Windermere’s fan - another symbol of masquerade, seduction, frivolity - to each other. It gave the whole a Baz-Luhrmann-circa-Moulin-Rouge exuberance that was quite enchanting.

:: Lady Windermere’s Fan runs at the MAC, Belfast, until November 17. Call 02890 235053 or visit themaclive.com.

The production will then travel to the following venues: Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey, November 21; Strule Arts Centre, Omagh, November 22; Ardhowen Theatre, Enniskillen, November 23; Old Courthouse, Antrim, November 26; Down Arts Centre, Downpatrick, December 1; Sean Hollywood Arts Centre, Newry, December 3; Alley Arts Centre, Strabane, December 4; Roe Valley Arts Centre, Limavady, December 5; Riverside Theatre, Coleraine, December 7; Island Arts Centre, Lisburn, December 8.