Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Friday 1st March 2002

Lady Windermere's Fan / Life After George

The Spectator - 2nd March 2002

One of the most noticeable aspects of contemporary British theatre is that producers and directors have become horribly media savvy. In deciding what plays to put on, and how to interpret those that they do, their principal concern is what's likely to generate publicity. In their eyes, this is the only sure-fire way to guarantee a hit. Thus, the poor, West End theatregoer is forced to choose between seeing a "challenging" new play, ie one that features copious nudity and lewd homosexual acts, or a "controversial" interpretation of an old one, ie one that features copious nudity and lewd homosexual acts. Can this really be in the long-term interests of the British stage? It's the theatrical equivalent of Tony Blair being obsessed with his own re-election at the expense of the national interest.

One trick that's becoming ever more popular with directors is "stunt casting". By this I mean casting a particular actor or actress because the director knows he or she will generate reams of column inches rather than because they happen to be the best person for the part. Peter Hall, the director of Lady Windermere's Fan, is guilty of this twice over. Firstly, he's chosen Pamela Gibson for the role of Lady Jedburgh, an 86-year-old actress who, as anyone who's read a newspaper in the past fortnight will know, hasn't appeared on the stage for 56 years. Secondly, and more importantly, he's cast Vanessa Redgrave and Joely Richardson as Mrs Erlynne and Lady Windermere, two characters who happen to be mother and daughter. Judging from the amount of publicity it's received, Peter Hall probably thinks this was a masterstroke, but would Richardson have landed the part if she hadn't been Redgrave's daughter? On the strength of the performance I saw last Saturday night, I doubt it.

She's not staggeringly bad, but she seems awkward and self-conscious, not at all at home in the role. Admittedly, the part is poorly written--Lady Windermere is supposed to be a goody two-shoes one minute, then a scarlet woman the next--and it's difficult to imagine any actress making much sense of her. But Richardson gives a strangely wooden performance. I daresay she's scared rigid by the prospect of being upstaged by her own mother every evening. Indeed, the pairing of a celebrated theatrical legend--still handsome after all these years, but getting a bit long in the tooth--and her young whippersnapper of a daughter is the stuff of an explosive play in its own right: All About Eve meets King Lear.

Presumably, the reason Peter Hall has had to resort to these casting stunts is in order to disguise the fact that Lady Windermere's Fan is a pretty mediocre play. As a fan of Wilde's, I was shocked by just how slight it is. It's the source of some of his best-known epigrams, and some of the dialogue certainly sparkles, but as a piece of drama it barely manages to hold your attention. None of the characters are properly individuated--they all sound exactly like Oscar Wilde--and even those that stand out, like the Duchess of Berwick (Googie Withers), behave with maddening inconsistency. Thematically, the play is so trite it almost succeeds in making you sympathise with the priggish society types it holds up to ridicule. At one point Lord Darlington (Jack Davenport) says: "It's absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious." Wilde felt exactly the same way about art and, by that standard, Lady Windermere's Fax is a failure. I'm afraid I found the whole experience, all two hours and twenty minutes of it, extremely tedious.

Life After George, which recently opened at the Duchess, is an altogether superior play. It's a heartfelt valentine by an Australian playwright called Hannie Rayson to the kind of left-wing academic that Malcolm Bradbury lampooned so mercilessly in The History Man. What's so impressive is that it doesn't stint on portraying the working-class hero of the title--a promiscuous history professor played by Stephen Dillane--as a complete shit. He betrays his wives, seduces his students and neglects his children, yet Rayson somehow manages to make him quite appealing. Perhaps that's because the thing he feels most passionate about is the importance of a liberal education as defined by John Henry Newman and that's something he has in common with all right-minded people. It's hard not to sympathise when he's railing against his ex-wife who's busy turning his beloved university into a kind of glorified vocational training centre. We should all rage with such gusto against the dying of the light.

Structurally, Life After George is a tad over-ambitious. It begins with George's funeral and the story of his life is told entirely in short, ten-minute flashbacks. The main shortcoming of this technique is that the scenes are so brief the play has difficultly building up any dramatic momentum and the climax, when it comes, doesn't pack much of a punch. Nevertheless, this is a beautifully polished production of a well-written play and a timely reminder of the virtues of the old left.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share

Twitter @AshleyWills @fatwheezybloke @WillBriggs9 Free schools get exactly the same money as academies because, legally spe… link  (9 hours ago)


The shocking truth about Jordan Peterson by Wesley Yang -
The intellectual dark web by Bari Weiss -
How identity politics is harming the sciences by Heather Mac Donald -
The fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat -
How Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe by Michael Lewis - Vanity Fair
The neuro-diversity case for free speech by Geoffrey Miller -
The Age of Outrage by Jonathan Haidt -
The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski -
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony -
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller -
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan -
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand -
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge -
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell -
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander -
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell -
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff -
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings -
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew -
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus -
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman -
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer -
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan -
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs -
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan -
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker -
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood -
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray -
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter -
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win -
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons -
Inside Westminster's free school -
Robert Conquest obit -
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that -


Andrew Lilico
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone


AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on

  • Buy the book on

  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from

  • Buy the DVD from

  • IMdb Page on the film