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The Niagara Blog:     A Sensual Feast at Shaw - Peter Hinton's Lady Windermere's Fan

Tara Rosling as Mrs. Erlynne, Gray Powell as Lord Darlington and Marla McLean as Lady Windermere Photo by Emily Cooper
Lady Windermere's Fan

Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan now playing at Shaw's Festival stage is a must-see this season thanks to Director Peter Hinton who made his dramatic debut here in 2011 with Andrew Bovell's When the Rain Stops Falling. Aided and abetted by designers Teresa Przybylski (sets), William Schmuck (costume), Louise Guinand (lighting) and Richard Feren (sound), Hinton's inventive approach to Wilde's play is a delicious visual feast not to be missed.

The audience is immediately ensnared even as they sit before the play begins. We watch a human frieze slowly form in front of the drawn curtain, a sequence of five female characters in beautiful period dress, each clutching a fan. They adopt frozen postures while a black and white grid is superimposed on the dark curtain, and we know that we are in for a treat. Immediately, it gets better as the curtain opens and closes, simulating the aperture of a camera lens, moving from microcosm to macrocosm and back, and thereby time shifting as well, such that Wilde's period magically becomes contemporary, and everything that's said and done, layered, hidden deep and charged with meaning, reverberates and builds towards a climatic finish.

Patrick McManus as Mr. Dumby and Sharry Flett as Lady Plymdale  Photo by Emily Cooper   Tara Rosling as Mrs. Erlynne. Photo by Emily Cooper   Lady Windermeres Fan, Photo illustration by Emily Cooper

The intermittent music by Rufus Wainwright works wonderfully and each act and set reflects a graduation in colour and intensity inspired by Wilde's contemporary painters. Darlington's room is in fact, an art gallery equipped with a long, leather, open-ended couch for contemplation and repose.

In the program notes, Hinton describes the first act as the Whistler Act, formal in grays and black and whites with the setting in the Windermere home, where husband and wife keep secrets, where a visiting gossip, the Duchess of Berwick (Corrine Koslo) plants a seed of doubt. In Act Two, the primary influences are portrait artist John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, known for capturing the glamorous world of the society ball. There are touches of Degas as well as James Tissot, particularly in the costumes. Act Three features Lord Darlington's rooms: a very masculine world: "Lord Darlington made me think of Paul Gauguin," says Hinton; "Darlington is leaving England, and he has asked Lady Windermere to go with him. So, like Gauguin, Darlington is a traveller and adventurer, a painter, a philosopher, a naturalist, and a bohemian." In Act Four, we are in the world of painter Mary Cassatt, known for her portraits of children and mothers. Cassatt's rich paintings are strikingly different than Whistler's portrait of motherhood, officially titled Arrangement in Grey and Black NO.I, known simply as Whistler's Mother. Her warm images show mothers in a natural way and their expressions convey love, wonder and even doubt.

Hinton relates that "It has been said that to hear Oscar Wilde talk was one of life's rarest and most divine performances. In the opinion of those who knew him, Wilde's best writing always held its place in conversation... (he) uses humour to distinguish the reality of life from its illusions, and the hypocrisy of puritanical morality is not spared. But this play has a dark heart; it depicts a young couple who risk tragedy, and are saved by their secrets; the measured calculation of knowing who to tell the truth to ... and when."

Gray Powell as Lord Darlington and Marla McLean as Lady Windermere. Photo by David Cooper  Gray Powell as Lord Darlington and Marla McLean. Photo by David Cooper  Kyle Blair as Mr. Cecil Graham, Gray Powell as Lord Darlington and Martin Happer as Lord Windermere. Photo by David Cooper   Marla McLean as Lady Windermere and Martin Happer as Lord Windermere Photo by Emily Cooper   Martin Happer as Lord Windermere and Jim Mezon as Lord Augustus Lorton. Photo by David Cooper   Martin Happer as Lord Windermere and Tara Rosling as Mrs. Erlynne. Photo by Emily Cooper

Lady Windermere (Marla McLean), a young woman recently married into the aristocracy, prepares for her 21st birthday party. In love with her husband, Lord Windermere, (Martin Happer), she is distressed by his relationship with the enigmatic Mrs. Erlynne, (Tara Rosling) and consequently susceptible to advances by Lord Darlington (Gray Powell). One is reminded of Stanley Kubrick's brilliant movie Eyes Wide Shut with doomed real life partners Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, the latter a New York City doctor, who pushes himself on a dangerous night-long odyssey of sexual and moral discovery after his wife admits her secret that she once almost cheated on him.

In this powerful cast, the best roles belong to the ladies, and Tara Rosling excels as Mrs. Erlynne, particularly in Act Two. She is the prime source of the play's energy and is quite up to the task. Corrine Koslo is superb as the domineering, meddlesome Duchess, and Marla McLean is splendid as the young and confused Lady Windermere prepared to risk all. Guy Bannerman, Gray Powell, Martin Happer, Patrick McManus, Aadin Church, Will Lamond, Jim Mezon, Kyle Blair, Kiera Sangster, Aaron Hastelow, Evan Alexander Smith, Harveen Sandhu, Donna Belleville, Travis Seeto, Melanie Phillipson, Nichola Lawrence, Sharry Flett and Kate Besworth round out a formidable ensemble that helps formulate Hinton's imaginative take on Wilde's exceptional play.

Lady Windermere's Fan last seen at Shaw in 1998 runs to October 19 at the Festival Theatre, 10 Queen's Parade, Niagara on the Lake.

Corrine Koslo as Duchess of Berwick and Marla McLean as Lady Windermere Photo by Emily Cooper

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