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A CurtainUp London London Review
The Judas Kiss

Always forgive your enemies, nothing annoys them so much — Oscar Wilde
The Judas Kiss
Rupert Everett has often acted in Oscar Wilde's comedies on stage and in film. He will tend to play a man of wit and erudition, a sophisticate, in a character we know was based on the playwright but here he gets to play the essence of the man himself in David Hare's 1998 play The Judas Kiss. I can't go through Clapham Junction railway station without thinking about Oscar Wilde on his transfer from Wandsworth Prison to Reading Gaol, left on the platform wearing prison clothes and handcuffed, accompanied by prison guards, being pointed at and derided by the crowd and even spat at by one man.

This is the performance of Rupert Everett's lifetime. His Wilde is heavy and fatalistic but attractive for his clever wit. In both acts Wilde is in the companionship of Lord Alfred Douglas, or Bosie (Freddie Fox), once before the trial when Wilde had the opportunity to flee to France in the face of his impending arrest and later after his release from prison, when he and Bosie are in Italy. Everett has changed his physical appearance to look like Wilde and what we see is a great talent in love with a pretty but worthless creature. It isn't that Wilde doesn't appreciate the shortcomings of his young friend but he is powerless to alter his own feelings. When urged to escape by his wife Constance and his friend Robert Ross (Cal MacAninch), Wilde seems to listen to Bosie and stays.

This situation is all the more poignant for us because we know how Wilde died of bacterial meningitis before his time and what great works might he have written? In De Profundis only published in full in the 1960s, on reflecting on his time with Bosie, Wilde saw how he had neglected his work and wrote to him, " I am not speaking in phrases of rhetorical exaggeration but in terms of absolute truth to actual fact when I remind you that during the whole time we were together I never wrote one single line. Whether at Torquay, Goring, London, Florence or elsewhere, my life, as long as you were by my side, was entirely sterile and uncreative."

I consider that the depth of Everett's moving performance is greater than Hare's play, the first half of which is set in a naughty nineties tolerant London hotel and the second half abroad. Both scenes allow for lashings of sexual promiscuity. In Room 118 in the Cadogan Hotel a manservant is enjoying a maid in the guest's bed and in Italy, Bosie and Galileo Masconi (Tom Colley), his handsome Italian man friend cavort naked while the older Wilde looks sadly on. On the back of the Ladies lavatory doors inside the theatre was this notice, "This Production contains Scenes of an Adult Nature and Nudity Throughout". Is that a disclaimer? Are those who might be offended meant to leave at this point? Will the Box Office refund the price of tickets to those who booked unaware of the carnal content?

The weakness of Hare's play seems to be the condemnation of Alfred Lord Douglas as a spoilt child, insensitive to Wilde's feelings. "My suffering has been the greater," says Bosie to Wilde. "All I cared for was beauty," says Wilde. Freddie Fox's Lord Alfred isn't beautiful, just younger but I am disinclined to totally blame Lord Alfred for Wilde's misfortunes. We maybe need to see some of what Wilde cared for.

The sets contrast the draped and swagged Victorian hotel with the simplicity of the house in Naples, a draped hanging curtain dominating first in red and then in blue. Australian director Neil Armfield stages the play very well and Rick Fisher's lighting starts the play in a beautifully lit "in flagrante" scene and later enhances the feel of Neapolitan sunshine which intensifies, as Wilde talks about the Italian sun. This juxtaposes with remembrances as to how he wept every night for a year in prison. In the final scene dark shadows dominate as Bosie moves on and betrays Oscar.

For Elyse Sommer's review of this play in New York in 1998 go here go here.

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The Judas Kiss
Written by David Hare
Directed by Neil Armfield

Starring: Rupert Everett, Freddie Fox
With Ben Hardy, Kirsty Oswald, Alister Cameron, Cal MacAninch, Tom Colley
Designed by Dale Ferguson
Costume Designer: Sue Blane
Composer: Alan John
Lighting: Rick Fisher
Sound: Paul Groothuis
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7615
Booking to 6th April 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 22nd January 2013 at the Duke of York's Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4BG (Tube: Charing Cross/Leicester Square)

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