In 1893, when Oscar Wilde took chambers, it was in order to both abscond from his relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) and to concentrate on completing An Ideal Husband for Mr. John Hare. Now, 119 years later a production by another Hare, this time David, exploring two pivotal moments in Wilde’s life – the eve of his arrest and the night of his release after two year’s imprisonment – is being performed in venues across the UK before hitting the West End.Described by Guardian critic Michael Billington as ‘the performance of his career’, Rupert Everett takes the lead as a crumple-jowled Wilde. No stranger to the works of the play write, Everett has previously starred inThe Importance of Being Ernest and An Ideal Husband and, judging by the shrewd, romantic and hilarious extracts of his memoirs recently serialized on Radio 4, seems poised at the perfect moment in his own career to take the role.
Acting a character that has become almost parodied in the public imagination is notoriously hard and, for a story focusing on the complex latter moments of Wilde’s life to succeed, needs to avoid caricature and buffoonery. David Hare himself recognized this potential pitfall when writing the dialog for Wilde saying, “In particular I didn’t want to write Wilde pastiche, I didn’t want him drawling out bon mots at every opportunity. I hated the prospect of Wilde spouting lines the audience knew already.”
Perhaps it helps that Everett himself would be an easy character to satirize and can therefore appreciate the difference between a public front and a private underlying. Either way, I have every faith that the man who once ran home to get a camera to snap designer sunglasses in dog poo, will prove Billington correct and deliver a considered and deft performance.
Other cast members include Freddie Fox as Bosie and Cal Macaninch as the critic Robbie Ross, whom Wilde wrote some of his most explorative and adroit correspondence to. Considering we know most about Bosie though the writing of Wilde himself – most of which is unfavorable and paints him as having ‘no motives in life…appetites merely’ – Fox has a hard part to play. Does he conform to the worst of our expectations or try to resurrect Bosie in a more sympathetic light and show us why Wilde loved him? Billington suggests, from his viewing of the play at the Hampstead Theatre, that it is more a case of the former and indeed the play’s title would seem to encourage this reading.
Ultimately though, this play promises to be about confusion of a very human kind. Away from the bon mots and the flamboyant bloomers, Wilde’s inability to truly break from Bosie during their two year relationship – despite repeated moments of dissatisfaction – and his decision not to flee to Europe and avoid arrest, is uncomfortably close to the experiences of many for whom relationships are not smooth fairy tales.
When David Hare was at Cambridge studying English he was dissuaded from writing his dissertation on Wilde as the subject was deemed, in Hare’s words, as “not serious” enough. It now seems ridiculous that the author ofDorian Gray and mainstay on university reading lists could be dismissed so easily and we have people like Hare to thank for that. In respect for his part in making people consider more carefully the gentle romantic genius of Wilde, we could all do worse that go see a production of The Judas Kiss.
Theatre Royal Bath (and then on to the West End)
Monday 22nd October – Saturday 27th October 2012
Tickets from £21.50 with concessions available