‘The Judas Kiss’ at Duke of Yorks

IMG00753-20130202-1403Each man kills the thing he loves…… the coward does it with a kiss.

David Hare’s 1998 play was not a success when it was first produced, but, in the revival first seen at the Hampstead Theatre last year, it has made the perfect fit between the actor Rupert Everett and the part of an ageing Oscar Wilde.

It is Everett’s performance which makes this a riveting theatrical experience.  Swaddled in a fat suit and looking jowly and sad, he gives a nuanced display of a man sticking to his principals, determinedly cowed by neither his reduced circumstances nor ashamed of being in love, unconditionally, with a capricious boy whose faults are nonetheless  .

In the first act, set in the Cadogan Hotel,  Wilde waits to be arrested after the collapse of his case against the Marquess of Queensberry and resists all the advice of his friends to flee; and in the second, he is in Naples, impoverished, after two years imprisonment, refusing to move from his chair, while Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas makes free with a local fisherman.

This is Wilde older and more subdued and, probably, wiser than the flamboyant wit of popular history.  It is his paradoxical stillness and seemingly passive waiting for the authorities to arrive that creates the tension and drama; he will accept his punishment but he will never be a penitent. He refuses to give in to the demands of his wife to give up Bosie, on the very day that Bosie abandons him; but you somehow know he would not have had it any other way.

The set is simple and striking; in the first act a deep plum velvet on the floor and over the bed, creating a hotel room in which many sorts of bad behaviour might be tolerated, as dramatised by the hotel employees diverted from tidying the room to using the facilities for their own quick pleasure at the opening of the play.  In the second act the purple is replaced with white linen and golden light to suggest the warmth of Italy, where Wilde sits, in shoes with no socks and an elderly dinner jacket.

Much has been said about Everett being made to play the role of Wilde, and it is perhaps true, because of what we think we know of the actor:  his own beautiful youth, subsequent decadence and his outspoken comments and indiscreet autobiographical writing.  You can really believe that he can see something in the story that we might otherwise not.

Freddie Fox, is also well cast as the pretty, narcissistic, Bosie, an uncomfortably androgynous pale faced boy given to petulance and  temper tantrums; indeed it’s hard to imagine the actor ever playing anything even remotely adult or masculine.

I had a tear in my eye as the light dimmed for the end of the show, for the resigned resolution, that Wilde knew that Bosie would leave him, but that knowledge did not stop him loving him.  That alone at the end, it was enough that he had experienced that love.

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