A Wilde Night of Puns, Laughs and Theatre: Lady Windermere’s Fan

By Austin Zheng (14A01B), Mindy Yeo (14S03R), Lee Yun Wen (14S03R)
Photographs by Matthew Yeo

‘I love acting. It is so much more real than life.’
– Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

As evening fell on the last day of the semester, a bustling crowd gradually streamed into the PAC foyer, buzzing with anticipation for Raffles Players’ annual college production. Curious newcomers and theatre aficionados alike went to support their friends and family, with even Mrs Lim Lai Cheng turning up to watch the play. An elaborate assortment of Victorian furniture and costumes had been thoughtfully set up for the restless audience as they eagerly waited for the doors to open. The décor provided a fitting backdrop to the night’s production, a rendition of Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan. Reflecting the vacuous viciousness of gossip, the ambiguity of human morality, and the hypocrisy of Victorian society, the play follows the puritanical Lady Windermere as she suspects her husband of cheating on her with the seductive Mrs Erlynne, who is actually her mother.

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It is always difficult to produce a play from a different time period, and the cast had the additional challenge of reproducing Wilde’s wit on stage. They however managed to pull it off, putting up a laudable performance that left the audience shaking with mirth. The supporting characters were the stars of the night, with Aaheli Tarafdar perfectly portraying the Duchess of Berwick as a stereotypical meddling, middle-aged matriarch, complete with a shrill, assertive voice and exaggerated expressions. Aeron Ee’s Mr Cecil Graham was the epitome of arrogance, delivering his lines with slicing wit and a haughty tone of self-importance. The other actors also displayed elegant proficiency, from Shrey Bhargava’s dangerously charismatic Lord Darlington to Bradley Yam’s bumbling Lord Augustus Lorton. Behind the scenes, the Players had spent innumerable hours honing their craft for the stage. Bradley related that it was his first time acting as an elderly man, and that it was challenging to learn the corresponding mannerisms. Publicity officer Vivien Neoh observed that the rehearsals were ‘a very tiring process. Learning to project one’s voice in an English accent puts great strain on the vocal chords.’

The cast made the play truly memorable, with play’s climax being particularly so. It was brilliantly executed, with Lady Erlynne suddenly stepping onto the stage, causing the agitated men to freeze in shock as a nearly-discovered Lady Windermere scampered away behind their backs. The speed of Lady Erlynne’s intervention, the brazenness of Lady Windermere’s flight and the hyperbolised reactions of the men made the scene side-splittingly hilarious. The audience’s uproarious laughter, which reverberated throughout the theatre long after the scene had ended, left no doubt about that.

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Yet the most impressive aspect of the play was the Victorian outfits and props. While the foyer installations were remarkable, it soon became apparentthat they were merely a prelude to the lavish costumes and sets of the stage. Exquisite gowns and intricate furniture made for a breathtaking sight right from the outset, with each actress wearing up to three dresses over the course of the play. Judith Tan, a member of the costumes and makeup crew, recounted, ‘We had togo out every day to costume shops to get them… it was really difficult to find Victorian jewellery and costumes, especially since every item on the set was sourced.’ Shrey explained that the costume team’s professional perfectionism prompted them to research on genuine Victorian clothing styles to avoid renting inauthentic pieces, which necessitated painstaking investigation into a multitude of rental shops. The crew’s prodigious efforts have certainly paid off, with the costumes and sets superbly complementing the cast, allowing the audience to truly visualise and appreciate the play’s Victorian setting. The Victorian-styled music also heightened the audience’s experience, allowing the lengthy transitions between acts to appear natural. Even with the admirable acting, it is no exaggeration to say that the play would have been a whitewashed shadow of its current self without its costumes and props.

Nevertheless, there were inevitably areas for improvement. The actors stumbled over their lines with alarming frequency, particularly the butler, Parker. Even the lines that were delivered smoothly often seemed a beat off. An audience member, Neo Wei Sheng, noted that comic timing was of utmost importance in a comedy like Lady Windermere’s Fan, and that the imperfect pace rendered the otherwise amusing dialogue less funny than it should have been. The implications extended beyond humour: Mr Dumby, for example, was too hurried in responding to Lord Darlington’s line ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ This meant that the audience could barely register the most famous line of the play. The performance also lacked energy at times, undermining the tension of several critical scenes. Another spectator, Angelica Chong, opined that Lady Windermere herself was the weak point in the play due to her insipid gestures and her grating accent and enunciation, a shortcoming shared by many female and minor characters.

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There were also some odd directorial choices. Lord Windermere, for example, buried his face in his hands in an almost comical manner after his conflicted monologue regarding his wife’s accusations of infidelity. In another instance, Mr Cecil Graham tapped an enraged Lord Windermere on the shoulder not once, but two separate times with apparent mischief, providing a confusing touch to the play’s climax.

Ultimately, as Mr Peter Booth, a teacher-in-charge of Raffles Players and the director of the play, reflected, ‘There’s always room for improvement…with a play one always wishes that one has an extra three days  but if you get those extra three days, you wish for more.’ The strengths of the production exceeded its flaws, with the audience giving the cast and crew a rousing round of applause as the play concluded. It was a delightful finale for an eventful school term.

There was also a hint of poignancy to the play’s end, it being the Year Sixes’ last performance in Raffles. Shrey, a Year Six Player, commented, ‘I started with Year Three Dramafest, and it’s been an amazing experience so far… Raffles is a safe place, it doesn’t matter if you fail. But my next production will be my own, and it’ll be different because it won’t be here.’ Mr Booth gave a glowing account of the outgoing batch. ‘I’ll miss them when they go… it wasn’t just me guiding them; they gave me support too.’ It must have been quite a journey for the Year Sixes, but with an accomplished team of enthusiastic juniors, Raffles Players will be in good hands. It is after all apt that the Year Sixes’ final school production, Lady Windermere’s Fan, culminates with Lady Erlynne’s marriage to Lord Augustus, ending on a note of new possibilities.

One thought on “A Wilde Night of Puns, Laughs and Theatre: Lady Windermere’s Fan”

  1. I do believe that Lord Windermere’s act of burying his face in his hands is meant to be ironic – he does so immediately after saying his lines “the shame would kill her (Lady Windermere)”. It is rather comical that he seems to feel more ashamed than his wife (thus the face-in-hands) instead!

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