The Trials of Oscar Wilde

3 November 2014
Trafalgar Studios, London

By Merlin Holland and John O’Connor
based on the original words spoken in court during the libel and criminal trials of Oscar Wilde

Cast: John Gorick, Rupert Mason, William Kempsell

Directed by Peter Craze

Summary: 14 February 1895 was the triumphant opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest and the zenith of Wilde’s careerLess than 100 days later, he found himself a common prisoner sentenced to two years hard labour. So what happened during the trials and what did Wilde say? Was he persecuted or the author of his own downfall? Using the actual words spoken in court, we can feel what it was like to be in the company of a flawed genius – as this less than ideal husband was suddenly reduced to a man of no importance.

Stephen Fry sent me, and who am I to deny lovely Stephen anything? 😉

Stephen’s love for and expertise of all things Wilde is widely known. He talked about the book by Oscar Wilde’s grandson before, and when I saw his tweet about the production, and I was to be in the vicinity (read: London) anyway and had nothing scheduled for the evening, I decided to get a ticket and check out not only the production, but at the same time the smaller of the two Trafalgar Studios. I have a soft spot for small intimate theatres, and this 100-seater is no exception. The stage is about the size of my living room, and with only three rows you’re very close to the action at all times. As with a lot of smaller theatres I encountered in London, the apparently unavoidable bench seating is not ideal, but probably can’t be helped when you’re pressed for space. Anyways, back to the production…

The first act deals with the libel case. Oscar Wilde sued Lord Queensberry (the father of Oscar’s sometime lover Lord Alfred Douglas) because he had left a note with an employee of his private club that Oscar thought had tarnished his reputation, since the employee had read said note. He starts out very arrogant and cocky, but with the defense bringing up more and more witnesses and evidence against his character, he becomes progressively more flustered, contradicting himself, evading and flat out lying, and thus digging himself an ever deeper hole, that ultimately results in a criminal court case against him for “acts of sodomy”. The second act is all about this criminal trial, that ends – as is well known – in Oscar Wilde being sentenced to two years hard labour for being homosexual.

All three actors are very good, with Rupert Mason and William Kempsell playing what feels like a hundred different characters. They are constantly busy with changing costumes, moods and accents. John Gorick’s Oscar Wilde is played with the flamboyance fitting the character, clearly showing his bewilderment of his – the great playwright’s – treatment, and his dwindling confidence as the criminal trial progresses and he starts to realise that this might actually all go very wrong and he maybe should have taken the proceedings rather more seriously from the start. The only thing I had a bit of trouble with was Gorick’s wig. What might have looked OK in a larger theatre with the audience being farther away was – at least to me – very distracting at times. All in all I really enjoyed this production, and I’m glad that I listened to Stephen instead of just watching HIGNFY re-runs on Dave all evening on a tiny hotel telly 😉

Watch the trailer here.

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