CFT Away from Home
Rupert Everett and Freddie Fox in
The Judas Kiss
Duke of York's
9 Jan - 6 Apr 2013
Rupert Everett plays Oscar Wilde with Freddie Fox as Lord Alfred Douglas in David Hare's The Judas Kiss - a compelling drama about the power of all-consuming love and the cruelty of betrayal.
It is 1895 and Oscar Wilde's masterpiece, The Importance of Being Earnest, is playing in the West End after a triumphant premiere, but already the wheels are in motion which will lead to his imprisonment, downfall and vilification.
Forced to make a choice between his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, and his freedom, the ever romantic Wilde embarks on a course towards self-destruction…
Rupert Everett shot to fame in Julian Mitchell's play and subsequent film of Another Country. Since then, his leading screen roles have included My Best Friend's Wedding, The Importance of Being Earnest and St Trinians. Playing Bosie is Freddie Fox (Hay Fever, Cause Célèbre), one of the most exciting young actors in the UK.
Please note: This production is playing at The Duke Of York's Theatre
The Daily Telegraph
When first staged in 1998, David Hare’s play about Oscar Wilde and his beloved Lord Alfred Douglas received a critical mauling. But Neil Armfield’s fine production, first seen at Hampstead last year, has turned a famous flop into a genuine hit, greatly helped by Rupert Everett’s brilliant and deeply felt performance as Wilde.
Saying that someone was born to play a particular role is a cliché, but watching Everett here it also seems a statement of fact. For long sections of the play you feel that you are in the company of Oscar himself, first immediately after his libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry has collapsed, and then when he is reunited with Bosie in Naples after two punishing years of imprisonment.
Everett’s Wilde is an older, sadder and wiser man than the wicked wit of popular imagination, and even his moments of humour are shot through with deep melancholy and a passivity that paradoxically becomes dramatically enthralling as he awaits arrest at the Cadogan Hotel. Why did Wilde resist the chance to flee when he knew the game was up? Why after his hellish time in Reading Gaol did he resume his relationship with the faithless Bosie?
Hare suggests that the reason was unconditional love and Everett’s beautifully judged performance makes it clear that Wilde is aware of all Bosie’s faults, but for him love is neither to be calculated nor adjusted to circumstances. As he declares in one of the play’s most telling and affecting lines: “The everyday world is shrouded. We see it dimly. Only when we love do we see the true person… Love is not the illusion. Life is.” Watching this fine revival one realises with a jolt that the often prickly Hare is, like Wilde, a romantic at heart.
It is moving to watch Everett in the role, not least because his gilded youth is far behind him and in this production he finally seems to be redeeming an often squandered talent. I don’t know if he has been binging on pasta and ice cream or is artfully padded up, but he is plausibly obese, and beautifully captures the rueful wit and the valour of Wilde as he faces the bleakest of futures following Bosie’s last act of treachery.
Freddie Fox is persuasive, too, as Wilde’s beloved nemesis, blond, petulant and heartless, yet convinced of his own righteousness, while Cal MacAninch is deeply touching as Wilde’s loyal friend and former lover, Robert Ross.
Armfield’s production creates an almost mesmeric spell as Wilde drifts towards disaster. He also discovers moments of both gamy humour and eroticism (there is a good deal of male nudity) in this hauntingly sad and touching play.
Sometimes a West End transfer diminishes a play. Neil Armfield's production, from the Hampstead Theatre, has actually grown, the cavernous new space revealing an unexpected grandeur within its painful emotional intimacy.
David Hare's vision of two moments in Oscar Wilde's downfall finds its definitive star in Rupert Everett: brittle and romantic, flippant and profound, eloquent in battered last-ditch wit.
He is perfectly supported by Freddie Fox as the young Lord Alfred Douglas: 'Bosie', whose libertinism and vanity brought Wilde down. The trio is completed by Cal MacAninch as his earlier lover Robbie Ross, urging prudence: first at the Cadogan Hotel, when Wilde could have fled arrest, and again in the second act in a bleak Naples villa where, broken by prison, Wilde is told that by renouncing Bosie he could see his children again.Wilde refuses both times, only to lose Bosie anyway. The Judas story, he observes with painful lightness, is artistically wrong. Christ's betrayer should have been John, the most beloved.
The three principals delicately convey the predicament of being an 'invert' in late Victorian society. Nothing distracts from the strong emotional line, played out on wisely unemphatic sets by Dale Ferguson: not even the casual nudity of Bosie and his latest fisherman conquest Galileo (Tom Colley). In the second act they wander around the chair from which Everett's Wilde hardly stirs, but it takes more than two naked beauties to distract the eye from the eroded, immobile monolith. Everett veers from tears to mockery in a turn of the head, softening to sadness even as the next dart of scornful wit rises.
In the first act, thinking of his abandoned wife and children, real grief rose in a sudden wave only to crash down as he noticed his lunch. 'Even the lobster reproaches me, those dead eyes'. Hare's script eschews too-familiar Oscarisms but catches his nuance and timbre, and Everett carries it to perfection.
Fox has a hard task, because Bosie is inevitably arrogant, vain, hysterical and cruel. The whole play turns on his inability to see or limit the damage that he does to the older man. But Fox gives him a streak of schoolboyish uncertainty, of petulant half-apology, which makes Bosie less a monster than a spoilt, but potentially irresistible, man-child.
Thus, as MacAninch conveys the worried decency of Ross, Wilde has to choose between love's prose and poetry. Alone as the light dwindles to a single spot, Everett achieves his tragic grandeur.
On which note, forgive the bathos, let me say that the lighting design (by Rick Fisher) is one of the many things that take this production, on the big stage, to the heights.
Tickets: £20 - £65