Everett has become Wilde incarnate
My stern gourmand Monsieur Le Gris wants to go to the theatre more often, so off to see The Judas Kiss at the Duke of York’s we go. I wonder if it was some subconscious plot of mine to take him to a play which opens with full frontal nudity and explores the exploits of Britain’s most famous persecuted homosexual.
Whatever it was, M Le Gris’ first comment was that he wasn’t sure if chambermaids sported Brazilians in the late nineteenth century. I decide not to ask what makes him such an expert and make a note to Google it later.
I seem to have an affiliation with Mr Wilde: I lived on Tite Street for most of my life and my late father directed The Trials of Oscar Wilde with Peter Finch. He was a huge admirer of his work and I remember reading and re-reading The Happy Prince when I was a wee slip of a girl. Indeed, I even had a dog called Oscar.
But I never really knew about the complex relationship between Oscar and Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), which rocked a rather two-faced Victorian establishment. This is what David Hare delves into with grit, intensity, pathos and a heavy dose of welcome wit and drollery.
Many have said Rupert Everett was born to play this role and I can’t disagree. He has become Wilde incarnate yet he doesn’t impersonate or mimic. He simply is and possesses all that Wilde was, complete with a larger than life stage presence and remarkable physical resemblance, although I found his repetitive breathing through his nose a little distracting.
We follow two momentous episodes in Oscar’s life. Oscar is taking refuge in the Cadogan Hotel after his libel case against the Marquess of Queensbury (his lover’s father). He is advised to flee London before arrest, yet in a perverse acceptance of his impending doom he stays put, partly out of pride and his need to be with his lover and partly out of a naivety that he is above the law.
WE SEE OSCAR the raconteur, the wit, the lover, and then – at his lowest, as a blanket of fear, anger and bitterness settles on him – the statuesque genius reduced to tears; his lover Bosie has fled to avoid scandal and he awaits arrest.
Everett manages to convey such a complex abundance of emotions, each sentence heavy with a subtext of what this trial means for him as a writer, for his social standing, not to mention the political future of England.
What we see most however is Oscar the idealist who wishes to exist in his Utopia, to live his life as he wants and to love whom he chooses, for this is the highest form of Art. ‘Love is not an illusion: life is,’ he says.
In the second act, we find Wilde and Bosie residing in a crumbling Neapolitan apartment. Despite all protestations and a stint in Reading Gaol, Oscar is back with the foppish, self-obsessed and calculating Lord Alfred, superbly played by Freddie Fox.
Fox swaggers about with various nubile lovers to taunt Wilde while apparently scheming and calculating his demise. One does wonder what Bosie’s redeeming feature is which Wilde clings to, and this is key, for it is Bosie who has brought his downfall by pressuring him to pursue a libel action against his own father for his own selfish reasons. In moment of lucidity Wilde sees this clearly, but is he blinded by this ideal or is it a sadistic self-persecution he feels he deserves?
A touching performance is given by Cal MacAninch as Oscar’s loyal friend Robbie Ross, who provides a calm voice of reason in a hedonistic world. Perhaps all true artists are born to suffer, perhaps they choose to suffer. We certainly see the mental torture Wilde is put through, estranged from his children and held to ransom by his wife and London society.
Even such a figure as Oscar Wilde needed a patron, and without money, his demise was all the more rapid. It certainly gave me a much deeper perspective on this genius and Everett really does play the role of his life. I hope he continues to tread the boards instead of a vacuous Hollywood existence. It is after all life imitating art.
Is it not, Mr Le Gris? You can stop Googling Brazilian waxes now, thank you.