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Theatreroyal.org.uk

Photo: Theatreroyal.org.uk

The recent release of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road as a film has got every second person pulling out the quote ‘The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.’

Despite quotes like this apparently resonating with the feelings and experiences of a great number of people, situations in which a person loses all in their relentless pursuit of a ‘roman candle’ are often greeted with scorn. “What did she see in him?” the moralisers squeal, “Wasn’t it obvious she would end up hurt?”; “I knew it would all go wrong”, drones the hum of self-satisfaction.

The majority of what we know about Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, lover of Oscar Wilde, is from Wilde’s own letterDe Profundis and from it the image of a mercurial, vampiric brat emerges.  Perhaps because, from his cell in jail, Wilde could not fathom his own fascination with, and dedication to, the boy, the reader cannot either.  However, Wilde certainly found Bosie attractive.  He refused to take the advice of the esteemed and measured Robbie Ross and he returned to Bosie in Italy after his release from two years in prison.

Previous performances of Bosie have perhaps omitted any hints of the roman candle side of his character.  Freddie Fox in David Hare’s The Judas Kiss somehow does not.  He is disastrously immature, an idiot Narcissus consumed with his own welfare.  He is also impeccably dressed, physically beautiful – a memory of Anthony Andrew’s Sebastian Flyte in pale blue – and magnetizing in his indiscriminate hatred for his father.

Unlike the insanely beautiful Galileo, an Italian fisherman Bosie sleeps with, the little English Lord is not an uncomplicated fuck.  His pale skin, narrow hips and marginally too skinny body all fit with his neurotic, skittish personality.  He is a jittery greenery-yallery aesthete, too melancholy and inattentive to enjoy too much lunch.  Yet in a room filled with the triptych of Ross (Cal Macaninch), Wilde (Rupert Everett) and himself, it is Bosie who the commands the attention.  He is such a pretty little boy that you want to make him happy.  You begin to believe that if he could just sort out his problems with his father – if you could help him do this – he would be both lovely and loving.

During the second act Ross admits his inability to see what Wilde sees in Bosie.  He reiterates his own unerring love for Wilde saying simply “I adored you” to which Wilde replies, “It was not the same.”  How it is that the faithful love of a truly great friend – and one who is both intelligent and good-looking at that – can be superseded by a ruinous obsession with a parasitical and vain Other, is one of the greatest and saddest questions of human relationships.  One simple and horrible suggestion is that the parasitic, flamboyant narcissists are often the most interesting of people.  Attraction to Kerouac’s ‘mad ones’ once again.

In Act 1, when delving through the trunk Ross has provided for him, Wilde expresses distaste for the literature contained within it.  He does not want the “sentimental” prose of Dickens to accompany his proposed journey.  Three hours before I saw The Judas Kiss, a friend told me she was re-reading Zola’s Nana. “The time of the year I need darkness.  A little sex and death” was the explanation.

Both Macaninch and Everett have already received laudatory reviews, and correctly so.  Everett is unrecognizable as an aged Wilde and particularly faultless in his Beerbohm-accurate body language.  Macaninch remains throughout the exemplar of good sense and skillfully avoids any suggestion of sycophancy.

With two such remarkable actors and their characters on stage one should leave the auditorium feeling uplifted.  However, at the close I felt profound sadness for the real Oscar Wilde and also unsettled by the universality of the story.  At heart, David Hare’s meditative and melancholy play and, in this production, the nuanced and mature performance by Freddie Fox, essentially poses some very uncomfortable questions about why we return to Zola when we could have Dickens.

 

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