Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Wilde at heart

  • Oscar goes touring: As per the report below, the Wilde play is now going on tour after its sell-out run in London. It should prove popular in Oscar's hometown Dublin, at the Gaiety Theatre for a week in October, followed by a week each at Bath, Brighton, Cambridge, Richmond - pity its not heading north - a friend in Liverpool would have liked to have caught it.... 

To the perfectly situated and sized Hampstead Theatre at Swiss Cottage, in London, for the new production of David Hare's play about Oscar Wilde THE JUDAS KISS - a matinee performance for this sold-out revival. Going to the theatre in the afternoon is rather nice, particularly when the modern theatre has cafe and bar facilities and pleasant outdoor seating areas, and is not so big that one is way back in the stalls - plus one is home by teatime without having to give up an evening and getting back late! Ideal. 

I was intrigued to see this production as I also saw the original 1998 one with Liam Neeson as Oscar and Tom Hollander as Lord Alfred Douglas, or Bosie - ably played here by Freddie Fox, actor son of Edward. Rupert Everett commands the stage as Oscar and captures that florid quality perfectly from the moment he sweeps in in Act One to spending most of Act Two sitting in a chair. The rest of the cast are perfect too, and are kept quite busy on stage as well as dressing and undressing - in fact Tom Colley (below, left) as Bosie's Italian friend is naked practically throughout.
Ben Hardy, that other young actor (now in EASTENDERS) is also naked at the start, as the young waiter, which certainly makes the audience sit up! Rupert, so amusing the other week in a re-run of MY BEST FRIEND'S WEDDING captures Wilde at these 2 key moments dealt with in the play. We first see him holed up at the Cadogan Hotel in 1895 before being arrested, as everyone tries to persuase him to flee to Europe, and the thoroughly unpleasant Bosie goes into drama queen mode.  Act 2 is 2 years later in Italy in 1897 as the ruined - both his health and financially, after 2 years hard labour in jail - Wilde contemplates his downfall and realises how Bosie has betrayed him, as he will not give up his family allowance and prepares to leave Wilde once again. Oscar achieves pure pathos here. Below: Freddie as Bosie with Tom Colley as the Italian.
Wilde of course lived on to November 1900 when he died aged 46 - his major works (apart from "De Profundis" were completed by the time he was 40). Bosie lived on to be 74 and died in 1945 - a bitter Narcissus indeed. If only Oscar too could have lived to his seventies, he would have been a star of radio and film and been rehabilitated as the wit and commentator he was and he would have been earning royalties again. His great tomb with its "Modernist Angel” sculpture (right) by Jacob Epstein has been cleaned and restored to its former glory at Pere Lechaise cemetry in Paris (I have been to it twice) and is that famous cemetry's most visited resting place, along with Jim Morrison's... 

Liam & Tom in 1998
The roles of Wilde and Douglas here are hugh with lots of dialogue - I felt for the actors having to do it all again that evening ... it is an engrossing thought-provoking play. Oscar was so much more than the grandiloquent poseur he is often remembered as. His ideas and philosophy resonate today as strongly as they ever did and his work has stood the test of time, living on as so much more than mere entertainment. Over a century after his death he remains one of the great Irish writers, a playwright of genius as well as a thinker and proponent of ideas who transformed his age. Hare's play shows him as a man in the grip of a passion he could not resist, who could not see the amoral and unworthy wastrel that was his nemesis, and so he brings disaster on himself. One can see too that Oscar could not be discreet as others (Robbie, the hotel staff here including that enterprising young waiter played by Ben Hardy) but had to immolate himself on the alter of his grand passion. Hare's rounded portrait of Wilde captures all this expertly.

The story of his wife Constance too is utterly tragic (as shown in that excellent well-received recent biography on her); she died 2 years before Oscar - I remember reading in one of the Wilde books how he visited her grave (in Genoa) and pondered at the sadness and waste of it all. He was then that haunted impoverished (but hopefully happy) outcast in Paris in 1900 as the new century (which would surely have embraced him) began. Instead he, as the legend goes, turned to the wall of that Paris hotel room with the hideous wall-paper and said "one of us has to go". Of his two sons - he was a devoted father too - one of them died in the First World War. We will always though have the plays, the novel, the fairy tales, the aphorisms, the wit that so entranced his audiences and friends like Lily Langtry, Sarah Bernhardt and the rest. The story of Oscar: the talent, the rise and fall - as per the plethora of books about him and that era [the reckless "feasting with panthers", his indiscretions at London hotels and assignations with youths like Alfonso Conway in Worthing, which didn't go down well in court] will continue to fascinate - and what great actress doesn't want to have a go at Lady Bracknell or Miss Prism or Mrs Cheveley?

Other Wildes: I like Peter Finch's in the 1960 film - which I will be returning to before too long. The Robert Morley one, also 1960, was just not in the same league. The 1997 Stephen Fry one was also screened again recently and was of course more explicit than they could have been in 1960, with Fry rather lightweight I thought, but Jude Law a perfect Bosie and a great supporting cast. Peter Egan was an amusing Oscar too in the '70s series on Lily Langtry. The BBC boxset on Wilde productions is well worth discovering too with perfect 1970s productions of the plays (casts include Gielguld, Margaret Leighton, Jeremy Brett) and a documentary on the man himself. Rupert Everett is a great Oscar too and deserves to be remembered come theatre awards season..

1 comment:

  1. Hopefully Rupert will get some Tony recognition for his performance. I thought he was superb. The well-hung supporting cast were fun too.