Mrs Oscar Wilde – Old Joint Stock Theatre, Birmingham

Writer: Lexi Wolfe

Reviewer:  John Kennedy

This evening, Constance Lloyd Wilde’s life becomes a fascinating, structured reality where the narrative constant exploits the intimate correspondences she exchanged with nephew, Otho.

Forever defined by the catastrophic hubris of her estranged husband, Oscar, overshadowing her own achievements as proto-feminist, author and political activist, Lexi Wolfe gives revelatory voice to a fascinating, complex woman.

Though only some 20% of the monologue is originally sourced from the archive, it would need a severely critically attuned toothcomb to tease out the difference. The young Constance is a vibrant, animated but frustrated ingénue waiting in the wings for that vital spark to ignite her soul. Much to aesthete Society’s envy and family approbation, this woman of ‘natural fashion’ seems to win Oscar’s heart.

Having spent much splenetic ink chastising young Otho’s wild abandon at Oxford, she now draws his opprobrium. It isn’t long before he lends her evidence of Oscar’s nefarious indulgences. Torn between intellectual and emotional fascination with her husband’s brilliance and strained tolerance of his increasing absences, Constance is adamant that she can rally the nuclear family once more. Her own successes elicit equal measures of admiration and disdain, notwithstanding being seen about Town with other like-minded women. Un-chaperoned and smoking in public is gossip scandal gold. Vices of small distraction set against the maelstrom about to engulf their lives.

Very soon, revelations of national scandal proportions go nuclear in all manner of ways she is beyond comprehending. Lexi Wolfe’s contained descent into her protagonist’s dark heart of near manic fragmentation is gut-writhingly convincing.  Grasping at ‘scraps of hope about my heart’, Constance gives bitter shrift to those who once claimed friendship – and hates herself more than them, forever demeaning herself for thinking so.

Constance’s name takes on a bitter irony – aged only thirty-nine she is all but broken. She takes solace in her sons (in anonymity) being well provided for, the haranguing moral high-grounders having near spent their bilious rants for her being a failing wife. They can’t hurt her any more. Conjecture has it that Constance eventually died of syphilis caught from Oscar. More recent research leans towards multiple sclerosis.

Intimate and intelligent, compelling and compassionate, Lexi Wolfe’s lyrical homage to a champion of women’s causes, artist and political activist, she justly revises and reinstates Constance Lloyd’s identity as much more than just the stigmatised victim of circumstances: being remembered as just Mrs. Oscar Wilde is not enough.

Reviewed on 15 Jul 2017 | Image: Contributed

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