The Importance of Being Wilde:
I saw the original production of The Judas Kiss in 1998, was fascinated by the performances of Liam Neeson as Oscar Wilde and Tom Hollander as Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas), and couldn’t quite understand why the play was not more highly regarded. With this current revival in London (originally at the innovative Hampstead Theatre and now in the West End for a limited time), the David Hare play seems, at last, to be reaping the appreciation it deserves both as a well-made text and as a strong evening of theatre. It’s completely convincing in its presentation of Wilde, Robbie Robb, and the ineffable Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas.
The great success of the production must be attributed to the directing by Neil Armfeld who gets from his performers completely committed performances all of which deserve notice. But there is no doubt that for most people the triumph of the evening is the performance of Rupert Everett as the older Oscar Wilde. In Act One he is about to be arrested but cannot leave the love of his life, Bosie, to escape to the Continent, though everyone is urging him to do so and even leaving him enough time for an escape. In Act Two, he is living with Bosie after his years in jail and receives, definitively from his lover, what everyone has been predicting, that Judas kiss. That he recognizes its probability himself and yet keeps hoping it will not be so is one of the strengths of this nuanced performance.
Displaying sardonic wit at every turn (with quips mostly made up by Hare but completely in character with what we know about Wilde’s repartee), yet heartbreaking in his pathos and degradation, Everett makes us understand the character as well as the argument of the play. His passivity, his searing intelligence, his self-destructive hubris, and his fatigue are all very strongly conveyed; but mostly we come to know of his commitment to an unconditional love of Bosie, even as he recognizes the young man’s mendacity, hypocrisy, self-delusion, and betrayal. Everett ‘s is simply one of the best performances in the West End at the moment, and for that alone you should try to see this production. Cal MacAninch is moving as the faithful Robbie; and the young Robert Fox, a petulant yet oddly appealing Bosie (convincing himself constantly of his own sincerity that everyone can see through), is impressive and a worthy stage partner for the other two. The play is haunting, sad, touching, and as England finally passes its laws in favour of gay marriage, remarkably topical and thought-provoking.
At the Duke of York’s Theatre
104 St Martin’s Lane, London WC2
until 6 April 2013.