As this play and its publicity reminds us, “the truth is rarely pure and never simple” – one of the many literary quips that, it seems, came to haunt Oscar Wilde after his fall from grace. Part of a week of celebrations of Wilde’s life, The Trials Of Oscar Wilde takes a look at the two sensational trials that plunged the author from darling of London society to disgraced criminal in 1895, using transcripts from the Old Bailey itself.

The problem with this verbatim writing approach is that, for all the appeal of ‘courtroom dramas’, elements of the trial transcripts are inevitably rather dry and repetitive, making the early stages of this play drag a little. In addition, the first few scenes chop and change so abruptly that it is tricky to really get a feel for the work until quite a way in.

However, the cast truly come into their own as the piece progresses, particularly in the second act. Their multi-roling is nothing short of remarkable, with Rupert Mason in particular demonstrating great versatility as everyone from a QC, to the outraged Marquess of Queensbury, to the Savoy chamber maid, to the condemning judge. Credit is certainly due to him and William Kempsell, also adopting a range of roles, for their incredibly swift changes – not just of costume, but of accent and entire demeanour.

As Wilde himself, John Gorick’s performance develops in a beautifully subtle way. What begins as a somewhat predictable presentation of the Wilde we know and love – rather foppish, undoubtedly charming but fiercely witty, just like his most frequently performed plays – gains a quiet tragedy throughout. While still raising laughs the audience, his quips and airy banter become hollow under questioning; his stoical approach becomes hauntingly ineffectual; and his colossal success as a playwright seems to have given him an air of arrogance that makes his downfall shocking to himself more than anyone. Playing such a recognisable figure as Wilde, Gorick plays it a little on the safe side, but nonetheless evokes genuine pathos at times. Lines from Wilde’s most well-known works are intercut with the court scenes and there is a sharp jolt of recognition in the double life of both Wilde and his most famous hero, Ernest.

What is most moving about The Trials Of Oscar Wilde is not simply the ruined reputation and imprisonment of one of Ireland’s best-loved playwrights. It is the sheer, outright condemnation of homosexuality and sexual freedom itself, with phrases like “unnatural” and “disgusting” – and most of all the damning words of the judge – reminding us of the severe and nigh on ubiquitous intolerance that pervaded British society just two or three generations ago. This work is of course intended to focus exclusively on Wilde – one of the writers is, after all, Wilde’s grandson and extensive biographer – but on look around the St. James Theatre it is attracting a rather narrow audience demographic. If the piece were to be developed with a little more dramatic licence and power, moving away from the biographical docu-drama that at times makes it so static, it may find a broader audience and a more powerful resonance in this wider historical issue.

The Trials of Oscar Wilde played at the St. James Theatre Studio. For more information, visit the St. James Theatre website.