Judgement abounds in Lady Windermere’s Fan

If I made a list of reasons why I love Walterdale Theatre, near the top of the list would be that their volunteer-powered theatre crew puts on shows that few other companies in this city are able to.

That’s certainly the case with Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fannow playing at Walterdale Theatre until December 17.

Why’s that, you ask? Check this out:

  • Two-hour runtime
  • A Victorian era drama with a verbose script
  • An elaborate set that has to quickly transition between three elaborate rooms
  • 16 actors
  • 51 members of the production team

Lady Windermere’s Fan is a beast of a production, taking place within 20 hours (don’t worry, the runtime is about 2 hours) as Lady Windermere (played by Miranda Broumas) struggles to move forward when she’s presented with the rumours that her husband is cheating on her with an older woman, Mrs. Erlynne (Marsha Amanova). In this time, she throws a party to celebrate her 21st birthday and is confronted with a choice to abandon her husband (Patrick Maloney), child and the life she knows to elope with Lord Darlington (Dan Fessenden) – getting some valuable help from an unexpected source along the way.

Comedic wit abounds

As is to be expected from Lady Windermere’s Fan, the script is fast-paced, funny, and witty. It’s very engaging to watch, a puzzle as the audience tries to keep up with who knows what at what point in time. Most of the humour in this piece centres around rumours and extreme, sudden judgements (more on that later) that naturally lend themselves to comedy as the truth is twisted and misunderstood and words gain double and triple meanings. I particularly enjoyed Leslie Caffaro’s  dry portrayal of the loquacious Duchess of Berwick who delights in sharing the latest information about everyone in her social circle.

Despite it being a comedy, I really appreciated the direction from Martin Stout (Director) and Madeline Stout’s (Assistant Director) to play Lady Windermere’s Fan very straight, with all the actors presenting the emotions their character is going through in a very honest and genuine way. All of the characters in this play are fully developed, being both comedic and sympathetic in the same breath. This character development even works its way down to characters like Lady Agatha Carlisle (played by Hannah Haugen), who only says “Yes, Mama” several times in the play, and yet through her vocal expression and body language is able to communicate her history and personality to the audience.

The leads in this play are among the most frequent who walk that fine line between comedy and sympathy. We see both the love and heartbreak Miranda Broumas as Lady Windermere experiences as she is debating how to react to the rumours her husband is cheating on her. We see the choice Patrick Maloney as Lord Windermere makes between hurting his wife by acting in a way that makes her think he’s unfaithful and revealing the truth behind his behaviour, knowing it will destroy her sense of self. And finally, in my favourite role that I’ve seen Marsha Amanova in – Mrs. Erlynne – we see the struggle between self-interest and love for one’s family.

Obsession with judgements

One human trait that Lady Windermere’s Fan draws attention to is the constant passing of judgement that everyone does – typically in their own minds, but aloud in the case of the characters in this show. The characters in the play constantly pass judgement on people and things – they’re either good or bad. Its starts subtly at first, but the repetition of these constant judgements is such that you can’t help but start cringing every time they do it as the judgements heap one on top of the other over the course of the play.

Leaving Lady Windermere’s Fan after being assailed by judgement after judgement, I reflected on how as we are able to curate the digital world around us more and more to agree with the beliefs we already hold, it’s seemingly very easy to pass judgement on what we like or dislike, without really taking the time to understand alternate viewpoints. Those constant, immediate judgements we’re all making tend to pass unnoticed until we’re abruptly confronted with them, as we are in Lady Windermere’s Fan. It’s easy to see the point Oscar Wilde was making with this tactic at his time, but very interesting that it is so easily applicable today as well.

Excellent execution of Victorian aesthetics

It shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone that Walterdale’s production team expertly executed the Victorian aesthetic that permeates throughout Lady Windermere’s Fan, written in 1891.

I’m a sucker for a detailed, elaborate set, and Leland Stelck’s set design, complimented by Joan Heys Hawkins’ intricate painting was breathtaking. I was so enthralled with the way Joan brought the set to life through her paint, that I had to look twice to see if the columns around the room were built or created through the magic of paint. In Lady Windermere’s Fan, we travel from the Windermere’s morning-room, to their drawing-room, to Lord Darlington’s rooms and Leland designed the set to change seamlessly between these locations. I particularly enjoyed the rotating wall panels with different designs on each side that efficiently facilitated the transition between the Windermere’s house to Lord Darlington’s.

As usual, Geri Dittrich’s costumes were beautiful representations of a variety of Victorian fashions. As the guests arrive at Lady Windermere’s birthday party, the audience is treated to a parade of actors displaying Geri’s work. I’m sure I was anticipating what the next guest would be wearing as much as the characters were.


Lady Windermere’s Fan plays at Walterdale Theatre December 7 – 17. Tickets are $19.75 – $22 through Tix on the Square or at the door.

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