A star cast leads a new national tour of Oscar Wilde's classic comedy of the mysterious friendship between a society gentleman and a notorious woman.
Liza Goddard is the mysterious Mrs Erlynne, holding a secret from puritanical Lady Windermere (Helen Franklin) in a refined and pleasing performance, while Fenella Fielding overacts her way through the role of the tactless Duchess of Berwick. The ebullient Christopher Biggins meanwhile delights as Lord Augustus Lorton, wearing a ridiculously garish red wig but carrying off the pompous yet likeable character with aplomb.
The audience is left to second-guess their way through the piece, wondering what is the secret that threatens the Windermeres' marriage, and, to be honest, why the husband feels the need to be so ridiculously over-protective of a wife who completely outshines him in the confidence, assertion and strength stakes.
While Wilde's comedy of manners always sparkles, with its delicious banter and memorable one-liners, and the ladies sashay admirably in their frocks (designed by Simon Higlett), it's the men who, by and large, steal the show.
The first scene of act two, when the men return from a night out drinking and proceed to offer their views on life, love and the world in general, is the most well-timed and entertaining of an otherwise fairly plodding production. The threesome of Stephen Fewell as Mr Dumby, Stephen Hudson as Cecil Graham and Jerry Lindop as Mr Hopper bring a lively respite from the stilted dialogue and minimal action which threaten much of the earlier scenes.
Richard Hansell's Lord Windermere, on the other hand, is so irritatingly laid-back that you cease to care whether his wife returns to the marital home or not - which is sadly indicative of a production lacking both flair and originality.
This Lady Windermere's Fan isn't so much bad as boring. Director Jacob Murray allows the cast to labour their lines, trudge through any action and generally turn a sprightly tale into a mediocre clock-watching exercise. Which, given the strength of Wilde's witticisms, really is unforgiveable.
Grand Theatre, Leeds, w/c March 13 Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, w/c March 20 Grand Opera House, Belfast, w/c March 27 Orchard Theatre, Dartford, w/c April 3 New Victoria Theatre, Woking, w/c April 10 Arts Theatre, Cambridge, w/c April 17 Grand Opera House, York, w/c May 1 Richmond Theatre, w/c May 8 Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, w/c May 15 Regent Thteatre, Hanley, Stoke on Trent, w/c May 22 Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, w/c May 29 Theatre Royal, Newcastle, w/c June 5 Theatre Royal, Brighton, w/c June 12 Kings Theatre, Edinburgh, w/c June 19