Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The Judas Kiss

Duke of York's theatre, 11 February 2012
Rupert Everett striking a typical expression as Wilde, with Freddie Fox as Bosie behind.
From Hampstead theatre website.
Wilde-as-Christ is a powerful idea, but it needs an approach that generates greater sympathy for the central character.

Oscar Wilde’s life was so remarkable that it’s no surprise it is ripe for dramatisation. David Hare has, necessarily, a partial view, but this isn’t itself a fault. 

Hare’s Wilde is an aesthete dramatising his own life, and proclaiming a gospel of love, knowingly imitating the Christian gospels, and at the climax making an effective criticism of their literary value – Judas was unknown to Jesus. It would have been more artistic had Jesus been betrayed by John, whom he loved. 

This is the audacious core of the drama. A serious retelling of the Christ story in velvet. The idea might have appealed to Wilde himself, though I think he would have cautioned Hare against some of the dramatic, rather than theological, pitfalls. 

For one thing, while Wilde genuinely suffered, we aren’t shown this by Hare, but are rather told it by his central character. It’s an eloquent report, pointing out that hard labour teaches apathy, not patience. But it isn’t the same as seeing suffering, in our imagination or on stage. 

Without this, I was left out of sympathy with Wilde, who, as with the apostle’s Jesus, comes across as exceedingly difficult. Jesus found only 12 friends, one of whom betrayed him. Hare’s Wilde is left with none at all.  

Prophets, even when they impart wisdom, are usually unlikeable, perhaps especially when they are the Son of God. In at least some of the gospels, Jesus’ passion helps humanise him. Hare is not able to do the same with his Wilde. 

We are left with a character who says things I completely agree with, but find unbearable.

Matters are confused a little by the gayness of the drama, especially in Neil Armfield’s production, in which several beautiful men are naked, one for a comically long time. 

Hare’s Wilde is not preaching a Gay Gospel, but the audience might be forgiven for thinking this, and that’s a great pity.  

Rupert Everett’s performance as Wilde is a further problem, as he only succeeds in making the character more unattractive. He sounds and looks affected and false, as though he can’t let up playing a role. I think some of this is Hare’s intention, but it should be possible to humanise the prophet a little more.  

Everyone else is fine, especially Cal Macaninch’s Robbie, who essentially represents us, the audience, bemused and frustrated by Wilde, but also shamed by him.

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