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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Duke of York's


  Rupert Everett and Freddie Fox/ Ph: Manuel Harlan

In an interview about his masterfully elegiac performance as Oscar Wilde, Rupert Everett described the writer as "one of the great punctuation points between the 19th century and the 20th century." There’s certainly a sense of history pausing in the Cadogan Hotel where Oscar Wilde is waiting to be arrested in The Judas Kiss. The atmosphere is both agitated and muted. There’s a sense of baying for blood, despite the fact that the police and journalists waiting outside are never seen or heard. The intimate setting feels like a sanctuary from the disapproval of the Victorian public, whose voyeurism, sensation seeking and desperation to be outraged by a celebrity demonstrate it to be remarkably similar to our own.
The implication of double standards is set up nicely from the start, as we witness vigorous lovemaking that proves – horror of horrors – to be heterosexual as the velvet bedcover is flung off to reveal a hotel maid and manservant. This flurry of flesh is succeeded quickly by a flurry of organization, as Mr Moffatt, described in the script as a "refined, feline Scot" walks in and announces that Lord Alfred Douglas is about to arrive. Freddie Fox certainly knows how to make an entrance, displaying both the self-absorbed volatility and snobbish narcissism that makes you ask what Wilde saw in him, and the petulant beauty that answers that question. Despite the repellent selfishness, he delivers a magnetic performance, whipping up the production’s momentum with his impatient disdain and delusions of genius.
In many settings he would be the scene stealer, but in art as in life, he is eclipsed by the arrival of Wilde. Everett aches with humanity. In contrast to the wittily ebullient, aphoristic individual who has burned himself onto our cultural history, he is world-weary and utterly at the mercy of his opponents. Bulked out with padding so that he matches Wilde’s broad silhouette, he exudes the threadbare gravitas of a man who knows he has been sacrificed but even so will not stoop to bitterness. "I’ve always had a low opinion of what is called action," he announces to laughter, as he is informed of the escape route from the police that he will never take.
In his De Profundis, written while he was in Reading Gaol, Wilde – who became a Catholic only on his deathbed – wrote about Christ as the great romantic artist of suffering. "With a width and wonder of imagination that fills one almost with awe," he said, "he took the entire world of the inarticulate, the voiceless world of pain, as his kingdom, and made of himself its eternal mouthpiece." The implied comparison between himself and Jesus in his writings – despite inevitable disapproval both then and, from certain conservative corners, now – is not blasphemous, because it is not religious. It is about the belief that animates Everett’s performance – that beauty, love and creativity are more important than the taunts of an uncomprehending world, and as long as you cling onto that you are redeemed.
The frustration among his friends that it is the hollow charms of Bosie that "redeem" him is beautifully embodied in the performance of Cal MacAninch as Robert Ross, the Canadian journalist and critic who was Wilde’s first lover. In the second half of the play, when the action has relocated to the time when Wilde fled to Naples with Bosie after his imprisonment, Ross arrives to inform Wilde that his wife intends to divorce him. Trapped, penniless, forced to witness Bosie bringing back one well-hung fisherman after another, Wilde still saves his main anger for the horrified Ross, railing about the sin and "gratuitous pleasure of giving advice." Like all great tragic heroes, he nurtures the seeds of his own destruction. And it is Everett’s great achievement that he conveys that this is a liberation rather than a curse. 


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