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'Ladies and gentlemen, I have enjoyed this evening immensely. The actors have given us a charming rendering of a delightful play and your appreciation has been most intelligent. I congratulate you on the great success of your performance, which persuades me to think almost as highly of the play as I do myself.' Oscar Wilde's deliciously self-confident address to the opening-night audience of Lady Windermere's Fan proved far-sighted.

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)

(Photograph omitted)