Review: The Judas Kiss, Richmond Theatre

“I adored you.
‘It was not the same…'”

Fresh from a successful run at the Hampstead Theatre and before its arrival in the West End in the New Year, this revival of David Hare’s The Judas Kiss visits Richmond Theatre for a week and packed out the halls (and overcrowded foyer) of this Victorian theatre last night. The play focuses on two episodes in the destructive relationship between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas: the first as the playwright retreats to a suite in the Cadogan Hotel in the wake of his failed attempt to sue Bosie’s father for libel and in anticipation of his own arrest; and the second two years later as Wilde tries to recuperate post-incarceration in the warmer climes of Naples.

Everett makes a different Wilde to the one one might expect. Hare resists the temptation to over-burden him with an ever-present rapier wit, making him a more solemn, melancholy figure – though one who can still produce a barbed comment at the drop of a velvet hat – thoroughly pummelled by the weight of Victorian society’s puritanical hypocrisy, a point hammered home by the opening image of screwing servants. But there’s an element too of self-flagellation here, even against the advice of his nearest and dearest to flee for France. With a tragic knowingness in his eyes, Everett’s redoubtable Wilde determinedly holds onto his personal integrity even as he knows that Bosie cannot, or will not, match such devotion. Continue reading “Review: The Judas Kiss, Richmond Theatre”

Happy birthday Oscar Wilde

In recognition of the birth  of Oscar Wilde on this day in 1854, I thought I’d pop a couple of his DVDs on and cast my roving eye over them. Though Coward gets revived on a regular basis, Wilde doesn’t seem to pop up with quite the same frequency, at least not on London’s stages, though his last appearance (of a fashion) was a hilarious musical version of The Importance of Being Earnest. He is of course the subject of The Judas Kiss which has just finished a highly successful run at the Hampstead Theatre and will be transferring into the West End after a short tour, where I will finally catch it in Richmond. And with a neat segue into these film reviews, it is Rupert Everett who takes on the role of Wilde in David Hare’s play.

It is neat because Everett was the star of the two most recent cinematic adaptations of Wilde’s work, An Ideal Husband (1999) and …Earnest (2002), and so clearly has a long-standing affinity with the writer along with director Oliver Parker. And I’ve also thrown in a review of the Stephen Fry-starring Wilde (1997) as it was a fair while since I had seen that film and thought it would be a good time to revisit. So there you go, and let’s hope it isn’t too long before Mr Wilde’s work can be seen on the London stage again soon.

DVD Review: Wilde

“It is monstrous how people say things behind one’s back that are perfectly true”

Based on Richard Ellman’s biography, Brian Gilbert’s 1997 film Wilde saw Stephen Fry take on the eponymous role in a sweeping biopic slash drama which stretches over the last 18 years of his life. Beginning with his return to London from a trip to America and ripping speedily through his marriage to Jennifer Ehle’s kindly Constance and the birth of their two children, it is his relationship with family friend Robbie Ross that leads him into a world of sexual discovery. He finds there Jude Law’s impossibly handsome Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas and falls head over heels into a tempestuous relationship, but in a society where homosexuality is illegal and propriety is everything, a happy ending is far from likely.

Fry makes an appealing Wilde, though one shorn of much of the acerbic nature one might imagine he had, he is a gentle father – telling his own story of The Selfish Giant acts as a clever layer of extra commentary – and he brings an almost avuncular warmth to the part. Jude Law’s Bosie is a revelation though, a serious reminder of his talents as an actor, with a capriciousness that is seductively alluring and yet criminally irresponsible. As Wilde seeks to lay the blame at the door of Bosie’s domineering father the Marquess of Queensbury, he ignores the knife-edge that their relationship is balanced on with devastating consequences. Continue reading “DVD Review: Wilde”

DVD Review: An Ideal Husband

“Sooner or later, we shall all have to pay for what we do”

Oliver Parker’s first Wilde adaptation was this 1999 film of An Ideal Husband, with Rupert Everett leading the cast as Lord Goring. What is remarkable now though is the casting of both Cate Blanchett and Julianne Moore who now boast nearly 10 Academy Award nominations (and 1 win) between them so this proves a great opportunity to catch them both just at the point where their careers were going stratospheric.

Sir Robert Chiltern’s security as a politician and respected gentleman comes under threat when the devilish Mrs Cheveley, a school-time enemy of his wife Lady Gertrude, attempts to blackmail him into voting a particular way in Parliament as she has evidence of past misdoings. He turns to his friend and eternal bachelor Lord Goring for assistance, who is currently avoiding the keen attentions of Robert’s sister Mabel, as he was previously engaged to Mrs Cheveley but the plot to extricate him has unintended consequences. Continue reading “DVD Review: An Ideal Husband”

DVD Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

“The old Ernest is dead, long live the new Ernest”

I remember rather enjoying this 2002 film adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest at the time, though I hadn’t seen it on stage before then I don’t think and so on re-watching it now, I can’t say I am as inclined to be as forgiving about it. Oliver Parker’s film seems so determined to put his own stamp on Wilde’s sparkling humour, assumably to make it relevant to modern audiences, that he somewhat loses sight of what makes Wilde’s work such the joy that it is.

The tight three-act structure of the play is completely exploded with chase sequences, hot air balloon rides, money collectors, infuriating fantasy sequences and trips to tattoo parlours sending the film sprawling over too many locations. Clearly the opportunities offered by film mean the constraints of theatre are no longer applicable, but in not a single case do any of these innovations actually work with the story. They simply dull the sharp blade of Wilde’s wit, indeed Julian Fellowes’ screenplay excises whole chunks of it, and it is most certainly not a fair swap. Continue reading “DVD Review: The Importance of Being Earnest”

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest – a new musical, Riverside Studios

“A handbag…?!”

 
Last year, Hammersmith’s Riverside Studios scored itself quite the sleeper hit of the festive shows with a hugely successful revival of Salad Days which was an absolute delight. This year, Carl Rosa Opera were booked in to bring their production of The Pirates of Penzance to try and recapture some of the same retro vibe but due to circumstances beyond their control, the show had to be cancelled. Stepping into the breach, as unlikely as it may sound, is a musical version of The Importance of Being Earnest starring no less than Gyles Brandreth as Lady Bracknell – something that promised to rather different to the Jane Asher-starring version that recently played at the Rose, Kingston.

Douglas Livingstone’s adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s classic retains much of the original, but re-sites the action into the 1920s. This offers a world of opportunity on the music and dance side, but also seems rather apt in terms of the increasing empowerment of women – though necessarily still limited – in dealing with their affairs. And the music from Adam McGuinness and Zia Moranne has a nice simplicity which never tries to do too much or make too much of an impact. For the songs really do serve an integral purpose here, taking advantage of our familiarity with the play to further build on and enrich these characters and scenarios to great effect. Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest – a new musical, Riverside Studios”

Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Rose Kingston

“When one is in town one amuses oneself. When one is in the country one amuses other people.”

 
Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest follows the Rose Theatre Kingston’s tried and tested formula of mounting classic plays for their homegrown productions. We’ve had Dame Judi in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Celia Imrie in Hay Fever and now we have Jane Asher taking on Lady Bracknell and her handbag under Artistic Director Stephen Unwin. Hayden Griffin’s spare design on the wide stage is framed within a proscenium arch of sorts, a giant picture frame containing a few pieces of furniture scattered around, but largely the stage is left free to be dominated by Wilde’s witticisms.

And how witty it is. Wilde’s play may not tackle any deep societal issues or serious topics but his clever plotting and incisive humour skewers the English obsession with class and the grasping social ambition of those who have clambered their way up the ladder, keen to keep others in their place. There’s also a touch of feminism in a trio of strong female characters determined to get what they want and fully cognisant of how to get it whilst the men mess around with their false identities and get increasingly flustered. Continue reading “Review: The Importance of Being Earnest, Rose Kingston”

Review: Directors Showcase, Orange Tree

“I am your lady…”

Bringing the Orange Tree Theatre’s Spring season to a close in their annual Director’s Showcase, a double bill directed by two young hopefuls from their Trainee Director scheme and an opportunity for aspiring directors to get that valuable first step on the ladder. This they do with the two shows Then The Snow Came and Winter, both utilising some of the cast from the recently finished show Three Farces.

Then The Snow Came, both written and directed by Jimmy Grimes, is a devised piece incorporating verbatim dialogue, improvised sequences, a brief foray into puppetry and a recurring motif of Oscar Wilde’s The Happy Prince into this tale of two homeless men on the less salubrious side of the streets of Richmond. The collaborative nature of the whole show is evident in the grim richness of the sense of authenticity that emanates from all aspects thereof. Continue reading “Review: Directors Showcase, Orange Tree”

Review: An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville

“Now that the House of Commons is trying to become useful, it does a great deal of harm “
 

Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, a tale of morality, blackmail and political corruption, arrives at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand for a winter residency, featuring the husband and wife team of Alexander Hanson and Samantha Bond alongside the luminary talents of Elliot Cowan and Rachael Stirling in the lead roles.

On the surface, Wilde’s play is the saga of a rising political star, Sir Robert Chiltern, whose career is threatened by the villainous Mrs Cleveley who is possession of the knowledge of the past indiscretion which led to him securing a small fortune and the undying respect of his virtuous wife. Mrs Cleveley wants his support on a new scheme and is willing to blackmail him to get her way, but when his wife Gertrude finds out the truth, her perfect ‘ideal husband’ is besmirched, she declares she can no longer love him and it is left to their dear friend Lord Arthur Goring. But on closer examination, it is becomes a passionate plea for true love to be willing to forgive everything, something given extra poignancy when one considers that Wilde’s affair with Lord Alfred Douglas would become public and wreck his life within the very year this play was first produced. Continue reading “Review: An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville”

Review: Salome, Richmond Theatre

“You must not look at her. You look too much at her.”

Salome has quite some theatrical pedigree: presented by Rupert Goold’s Headlong company and directed by Donmar Associate Jamie Lloyd, Oscar Wilde’s one act tragedy based on the Biblical story has been radically refashioned into a bold new production currently touring the UK (Oxford, Newcastle and Brighton remain) before settling at the Hampstead Theatre for a month on 22nd June.

Set in a post-apocalyptic futuristic industrial hellhole somewhere in the Middle East, spoiled princess Salome takes a perverse fancy to Iokanaan (John the Baptist) despite or perhaps because of the grim prophecies he has for her mother, Herodias, and stepfather, the Tetrarch King Herod. It seems as if these prophecies, and the detestation both Herod and Herodias have for the prophet, are the reason for Salome’s sudden obsession but when Herod makes her an offer she can’t refuse involving a dance, the opportunistic princess sows the seeds for her own downfall.

After a slightly slow opening 15 minutes or so, Salome soon kicks into gear with a highly visual gore-filled, sexualised take on the well known Biblical story. Not recognisably Wildean it must be said, Jamie Lloyd has stripped it bare of its original idiosyncrasies and reconstructed a savage modern tale of 21st century sexuality which surprises rather than truly shocks but nevertheless develops into an engaging account of what is a largely familiar story.


As the titular Salome, Zawe Ashton is unashamedly shallow and sexual, portraying her as hopped up on something or other, her jittery hands unable to stop themselves from running over her body, alive to her sexuality but not yet fully aware of its power and the consequences of flaunting it so vividly. This awkwardness is perfectly played in the beginning of the infamous dance sequence, thoroughly updated here but imbued with a painful ungainliness exacerbated by the reaction of Herod (which is to masturbate furiously in the open court). Ashton has to deal with much of Wilde’s repetitive text, endlessly repeating two key phrases but she fills them with sufficient petulance to remind us that this is just an oversexualised kid.


As the tyrannical, testosterone-fuelled Herod, Con O’Neill is quite something: sexually hungry for men and women alike and unable to control his urges, leading to his rash promise that leads to the climactic demand. Physically he gave a magnificent portrayal of this rapacious despot and the human frailty beneath the swaggering, but I wasn’t 100% convinced by his vocal delivery, strangely high-pitched and mostly delivered at a bellow. Jaye Griffiths is vocally much stronger as his attention-hungry embittered wife and as a result becomes something of a focal point as probably the strongest performance onstage. Seun Shote’s Iokanaan deserves a special mention though: kept chained under a manhole, his first arrival from his prison kickstarts the show, his muscular presence rising from the deeps and spewing forth prophetic pronouncements with a powerful baritone. The rest of the ensemble is strong but there is little to distinguish them from one another, only Richard Cant’s heartbroken Page of Herodias stands out with his revelations about the true closeness of his friendship with the Young Syrian Sam Donovan.


The design by Soutra Gilmour is impressive, all the more so considering how it reinvents the traditional stage at Richmond and is a touring show, with a large square sandpit strewn with puddles of tar dominating the dungeon-like space, scaffolds and lighting rigs around the walls add to savagery of the landscape. Combined with very effective lighting and pulsing sound design, there is a great sense of atmosphere to this production culminating in the production of an extremely gory and effective severed head, and with a running time of just 90 minutes, it doesn’t outstay its welcome. All in all, something really quite different and interesting that you should make the effort to see.


Running time: 90 minutes (without interval)
Programme cost: £3
Note: smoke, haze and scenes of a sexual nature abound in this production so probably not one for the sensitive.