- April 11, 2019
Oscar Fingal O”Flahertie Wills Wilde, perhaps the sharpest wit of world theatre, flamboyant, extravagant, egotistical and best known for two things, yes the plays but also for being imprisoned for “gross indecency”, two years hard labour served at Reading Gaol.
Co-writers John O’Connor and Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland have built a stunning drama, utilising rare transcripts of some of the three trials, and they have shone a light on the complex proceedings. It was of course Wilde who took action against the Marquess of Queensberry, a libel action that failed with Wilde withdrawing bruised and shamed. But the rapid action of the crown prosecutor reversed Wilde’s fate and pretty soon he was back in the dock, this time as the defendant. And this time his florid speeches fall on stony ground as the young men, clearly groomed by the prosecuting counsel, deliver their damning testimonies.
John Gorick plays Wilde with confident and elegant charm, and as the cases proceed you see the man drift from arrogance to fragility, broken and all but destroyed as sentence is delivered.
All the other parts in this finely crafted play are delivered by Rupert Mason, Patrick Knox and Benjamin Darlington and delivered with same confidence and elegance. From the defending and prosecuting barristers to then vulnerable young men brought to the court to testify against Wilde.
How does the legendary gay hero come out of all this? Well that is for the jury, sorry audience to decide. It seems clear that Wilde was not without blame, far from innocent perhaps. Queensberry was no doubt a bully, and no scholar, “sondomite” indeed. What it really shows is that homosexuality is nothing new, homophobia as old as time and the whole a massive reminder that in far to many places, even today, to be gay carries punishments from imprisonment to the brutality recently shown in Brunei of death by stoning.
This performance in the crazy setting of the Royal Pavilion’s chinoiserie bedecked music room, a space in which Wilde lectured on two occasions, was done with little more than a few chairs and period costumes. Without their usual set I felt that we were seeing this well crafted work and superbly directed cast to best effect, uncluttered, focused and powerful.
Royal Pavilion, Brighton