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The importance of being happily married
Lady Windermere's Fan - Oscar Wilde (Audio Book)
Member Name: ladybracknell
Lady Windermere's Fan - Oscar Wilde (Audio Book)
Advantages: A witty and entertaining full cast recording of Oscar Wilde's first stage play
I've listened to several audio books from Naxos, all of which have been excellent and this full cast recording of the play was also of high quality and features a well known cast of actors making this a highly enjoyable listening experience.
It's Margaret, Lady Windermere's birthday and her husband, Arthur has given her a beautiful fan as a present which she intends to carry with her to her birthday ball that evening. Following a visit from Lord Darlington who implies that her husband is taking a rather personal interest in a certain lady, later confirmed by another visitor as a Mrs Erlynne, Lady Windermere confronts her husband who insists she invite Mrs Erlynne to her birthday party. Incensed and distraught at the thought that her husband is being unfaithful, Lady Windermere threatens to strike Mrs Erlynne with her fan if she attends. The mysterious new woman making her entry into London society is destined to cause shockwaves throughout the town.
As a child of the radio generation (Who remembers Uncle Mac on Saturday mornings or the wonderful Children's Hour?) I've always enjoyed listening to the radio. I think it allows the imagination free rein and this is particularly so when listening to a play where the characters can take on the form of whomever the listener desires.
The cast for this recording, which was specially commissioned by Naxos, is very high calibre with several household names including Samuel West, Michael Sheen and Juliet Stevenson.
'Lady Windermere's Fan' was Oscar Wilde's first stage play and ensured his immediate success. Ironically, the play deals with the hypocrisy of public morality, to which Wilde himself would fall victim some few years later. As expected from the man himself, the play is witty and filled with many typical Wildean quips.
The play begins on Lady Windermere's birthday and she's arranging flowers in her drawing room. The house is being prepared for her birthday ball that evening where she intends to use her new fan, a birthday gift from her husband. She receives a visit from one of her admirers, Lord Darlington. He's something of a playboy and a rake who admits 'I can resist anything but temptation.' When Lady Windermere reprimands him for flirting with her, a married woman, he responds by asking hypothetically whether a woman who has only been married for two years and whose husband is paying particular attention to another woman 'of dubious character' should not console herself. This comment, of course, causes Lady Windermere to question whether Lord Darlington is referring to her own marriage and when her next visitor, the Duchess of Berwick, confirms that her husband has been seen frequently in the company of a Mrs Erlynne and that he's paying money to her, Lady Windermere is distraught.
Although Lady Windermere doesn't want to believe that her husband and the father of her baby son would be unfaithful, the Duchess takes catty delight in affirming he's been seen visiting Mrs Erlynne and staying for several hours. The Duchess has a very jaundiced view of men, her own husband and son included. When Lady Windermere asks her if all men are bad, the Duchess replies 'Oh, all of them, my dear, all of them, without any exception. And they never grow any better. Men become old, but they never become good.'
After her visitors have left, Lady Windermere checks her husband's desk and discovers a separate bank book detailing payments of large sums of money to Mrs Erlynne. When she confronts him on his return to the house, he's furious that she's been snooping and though he denies any wrongdoing, he refuses to give her any details about Mrs Erlynne other than that she's a widow who has fallen on hard times. He asks his wife to invite Mrs Erlynne to her birthday ball in order to help the widow back into society. Margaret, of course, takes the moral high ground and refuses but Lord Windermere insists and subsequently invites her himself, at which point Margaret declares she will strike Mrs Erlynne across the face with her fan if she steps over the threshold. With that and believing her marriage is at an end, Margaret stalks off leaving Lord Windermere to acknowledge that he can't tell his wife the truth about Mrs Erlynne because 'the shame would kill her.'
As you can imagine, the matters between husband and wife go from bad to worse and with the rakish Lord Darlington attempting to break the couple up, the prospect of their marriage remaining happy is looking pretty bleak and it will take many twists and turns of the plot and a further two acts of the play before all the facts are revealed so everyone's future happiness can be restored.
Being an Oscar Wilde play, the dialogue is so packed full of witty aphorisms it's hard to know which ones to single out for special mention. In this particular play, most of the quips refer to marriage and relationships. For instance, when Lord Windermere beseeches his wife at the beginning of her ball to trust him with regard to Mrs Erlynne, she retorts 'London is full of women who trust their husbands. One can always recognise them. They look so thoroughly unhappy.'
The cast assembled for this recording is exceptionally good. Samuel West (Lord Windermere) gives an excellent performance as the somewhat harassed and slightly pompous husband and Emma Fielding (Lady Windermere) comes across well as the young, ingenuous and now disillusioned wife who fails to recognise that she is being manipulated by the rakish Lord Darlington (Michael Sheen). Michael Sheen, in fact, shows yet another brilliant facet to his acting skills. Vocal acting where the audience can't see subtle facial expressions requires a higher level of interpretation and he succeeds in getting just the right amount of unctuousness across without sounding so totally slimy as to be unbelievable. Juliet Stevenson is perfectly cast as the mysterious Mrs Erlynne.
The fact that the Edwardian period is long gone doesn't take anything away from this play. Many of the witticisms are as relevant today as they ever were and the subject matter, too, is still contemporary. Let's face it, many of us see daily evidence that public morality and what goes on behind closed doors are two entirely different things.
This 2 CD recording lasts for 1 hour 43 minutes and I found it totally engrossing and thoroughly enjoyable. Even those who prefer to watch TV rather than listen to a radio play will soon be completely wrapped up in the story and be able to put their own images onto each of the characters.
I can't recommend Naxos recordings highly enough. I've listened to several audio books and plays from this company now and every single one has been of an incredibly high standard and this play is no exception.
I borrowed this recording from the library but copies are currently available for around £7.50 from online sellers or the play can be digitally downloaded from the Naxos website.
Summary: Oscar Wilde's take on marital infidelity, a subject of which he knew plenty
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