Its success made Wilde's reputation, in more ways than one. He had instructed a group of friends to attend the opening sporting green carnations from a florist in Piccadilly, in order to suggest a fraternity which did not formally exist; or, as Noel Coward's young men chorused in Bitter-Sweet, 'And as we are the reason for the Nineties being gay/We all wear a green carnation'.
Whether or not audiences continue this sartorial tradition on Monday's opening night remains to be seen, but they have been thronging to Philip Prowse's production (starring Amanda Elwes, opposite) on tour. Many will have been surprised to discover the play's depth, and the tension between concealment and exposure which proved to be so ironic for its author. As Prowse remarked in rehearsals, 'it's not a comedy, it's a drama with jokes'.
Simon Dutton (below) plays Lord Darlington. 'The less you do the better. Never make it arch, don't put it in inverted commas, just play it truthfully, with a really light touch. It's a real challenge not to overplay it.'
'Lady Windermere's Fan' previews from tonight at the Albery Theatre (071-867 1115)