DramaReviewSouth East

Wilde Without The Boy – Cramphorn Theatre, Chelmsford

Author : Oscar Wilde
Adaptor: Gareth Armstrong
Director: Gareth Armstrong
Reviewer: Michael Gray

 

This brilliant double bill of Oscar Wilde comes to the Cramphorn – far from packed, alas – polished by touring and triumphant trips to the Fringe.

It’s a splendid conceit – imagine that Oscar, like Dickens, decides to do the celebrity readings circuit of Assembly Rooms and playhouses. The two works are his most deeply personal. De Profundis, an open letter to his awful boyfriend Bosie, “dead to all sense of shame” whose thoughtlessness and worse has brought Wilde to penury and two years hard labour. He was allowed to write it, though not to keep the pages, during his time in gaol. Only on his release – with which this adaptation by director Gareth Armstrong begins – is he entrusted with the complete manuscript, together with a ten bob note.

His immaculate morning suit contrasting with the cheap furniture, Gerard Logan brings the waspish Wilde convincingly to life before us. His gentle, clipped tones, with the merest hint of his Dublin roots, take us through the sad, familiar story of his costly infatuation: feasting with panthers, devising an “order for those who do not believe”, laid low with flu in a Brighton hotel, ortolans in vine leaves and a cherished crust of white bread. As he contemplates the “ruins of [his] wonderful life”, the actor subtly suggests the pain behind the words. The only time he completely breaks down, though, is when he recalls the wordless anguish of his mother’s death. And at every turn his creativity is stifled by Bosie’s corrosive presence, the very opposite of a muse. A towering performance, its every nuance keenly felt in the intimacy of the studio setting. Enhanced by the changing light – for the flashbacks to the trial, say – and the evocative soundtrack.

In the second half we join Wilde in exile, sitting at a French café table, in the uniform of the Brit abroad, a crumpled écru linen suit.

The piece this time is The Ballad of Reading Gaol, written in Dieppe after his release. The rhyme, rhythm and repetition of the ballad form lend themselves well to performance. Logan brings a wide range of moods to the piece – sometimes singing, sometimes casually conversational – as Wilde the prisoner reflects on the condemned man he sees but never meets in the silence of the exercise yard. Body language, too, plays a key role, as when the warder is evoked for a fleeting moment. And at the end, Oscar tosses his green carnation onto the unmarked, quick-limed prison grave.

A superb evening in the company of a great writer and a great actor. And a salutary reminder of how far humanity has come in the years since Wilde’s show trial for the “love that dares not speak its name”.

 

Touring until 8 February 2017 | Image: Contributed

 

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