Sunday, July 28, 2013

Review: (Shaw) Lady Windermere's Fan

Marla McLean (photo by Emily Cooper)

Oscar Wilde and Katy Perry lie in the gutter...
But look up at the stars
by Dave Ross

Lady Windermere’s Fan was written by Oscar Wilde, and followed the publication of A Picture of Dorian Grey. It is a biting commentary on the good and bad in both men and women, and fittingly, this production at the Shaw Festival contains both the good and the bad. 

First, the good – the performances in this show are, unsurprisingly, excellent. Marla McLean as Lady Windermere does wonderfully portraying a tortured, tried young society woman. Guy Bannerman has a small role as Parker, the Windermeres’ butler, and is stodgy and nosey to the delight of the audience (and annoyance of the Windermeres). Kyle Blair’s Mr. Cecil Graham is perfectly, irritatingly foppish. Indeed, the cast have all mastered the art of tittering, gossipy society folk. Worth special mention is Tara Rosling as Mrs Erlynne. Her performance is refined, and in places deliciously executed. Her stage presence is undeniable. 

some strange decisions have been made in this production

Costumes by William Schmuck are appropriately lush, with gowns and morning coats abundant. Sets by Teresa Przybylski are well-matched to Schmuck’s costumes, managing to be appropriately elegant and yet also spartan simultaneously, and never intrusive. The sound design by Richard Feren is similarly unobtrusive, with some exception I will discuss shortly. Direction by Peter Hinton is smooth, elegant and uniquely cinematic in places, particularly the first act. However, some strange decisions have been made in this production. Everything about the design is period-specific, except the music. This is exceptionally puzzling. We open with a Rufus Wainwright song, are treated to some 1970s psychedelic rock, a baroque vocal piece, and close (appallingly) with a curtain call to Katy Perry’s “Firework.” A set that involves a fireplace uses a painfully obvious flat panel television in place of simulated flames. These decisions seem to have been made simply because they could be made. They don’t serve to contribute anything to the narrative or production, and I can only assume they could possibly be an attempt to tie in Wilde’s commentary to our current century. If anything, their presence confuses, and occludes any motivation that the director may be trying to indicate.

The material lags in places. The first and second acts are slow and quite generous in dialogue, while tensions finally peak in the third act. While the commentary is still relevant (and much of the play amusing), it seems as though some sections could use a reinterpretation. All in all, this show is up to the calibre one expects from the Shaw Festival. If you love Oscar Wilde, period pieces, and/or Katy Perry, you’ll love this performance. If you want fast-paced, engaging material, I’d suggest seeing what else the Festival has to offer. 

To October 19
2 hours 20 minutes with one intermission


  1. Odd, this play has received rave reviews most places. It needs to be "reinterpreted" BUT it's also being criticized for contemporary music add-ins? Ok, that's an interesting couplet of complaints. Maybe "an attempt to tie in Wilde’s commentary to our current century"....yah, maybe. We're seeing this play Friday -- maybe I'll get back and see if you're just out of your mind!

  2. My review is mostly positive, and I sincerely hope you enjoy the production. It's true that this production has been receiving a lot of great reviews - but they are not universal. I respectfully submit that one of the greatest things about theatre is that it is a completely subjective experience - each person experiences it differently, and will enjoy it (or not) in their own way.

    The material could indeed use some reinterpretation, or perhaps as I should have phrased it, some careful adjustment. There are great long sequences of dialogue that to a modern audience may seem excessive, and at times, that was the case with this production. The addition of contemporary music can't address this issues, and I never once made any suggestion that the music was trying to reinterpret the work. Instead, I found it to be quite jarring and rather out of place, as did my companions that saw the show with me.

    Writing reviews is extremely difficult, and no good review is going to be 100% "THIS IS AWESOME" or "DON'T SEE THIS." I'd be wary of any that were. What I've written here is a balanced piece that highlights the strengths of the production while also acknowledging its weaknesses. I expect you were going for playful rather than insulting with your "out of your mind" comment, but these reviews are a great deal of work. Please consider this in future comments.

    I'd be genuinely interested to hear what you like and disliked about the production - so please do come back and let us know! You can also tweet at us, @dmjross and @charpotoronto


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