The Judas Kiss, Richmond Theatre, October 2012

This David Hare play focuses on two moments in Oscar Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie). One is at the Cadogan Hotel during the day leading up to his arrest, the other in Naples after his release from prison.

Bosie, Robbie, Wilde

The audience found several of Wilde’s lines amusingly witty, and some of Bosie’s breathtakingly narcissistic. This obnoxious young man was well portrayed by Freddie Fox, his admirable physique well befitting the nude scenes, though Tom Colley as Bosie’s Italian lover in Naples arguably beat him in this respect. Cal MacAninch as Robbie Ross, an ex-lover of Wilde who adores him and wants to help him, was very convincing, and the scene with the hotel servants was well played, but Rupert Everett made an unsympathetic Wilde. It’s essential to feel for him, otherwise the play rather loses its point.

Everett as Wilde

In an interview in the programme, David Hare is asked why he picked the two moments he did, and to what extent the dialogue was Hare’s own invention — the answer is most of it. Among numerous other questions and answers, the one asking what the author was trying to achieve is absent: was the intention to explain Wilde’s demise, was it to grieve over a relationship that halted Wilde’s creative genius, or was there some other purpose? However, in an article by Wilde’s only grandson — well worth the price of the programme — Merlin Holland wishes he could ask his grandfather one single question, ’Why on earth did you do it?’ suing Bosie’s father, landing himself in gaol and allowing society to rid itself of a rebel “who called into question … the hypocrisy of those social, sexual and literary values upon which Victorian society was so firmly based”.

The creative team that put this on has done a terrific job. Fine direction by Neil Armfield with excellent designs and costumes by Dale Ferguson and Sue Blane, and clever lighting by Rick Fisher that allows the audience to experience the passing of many hours as Wilde sits almost immobilised.

Bosie and lover

Time waits for no man, but at the end of this play it seems that Wilde is waiting for time so it can annihilate him. I would have preferred more depth.

Performances at Richmond continue until November 3 — for details click here — after which it goes to the Theatre Royal Brighton, November 5–10, before opening in the West End at the Duke of York’s Theatre on 17 January 2013 (previews from 9 January).

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