Just a hop, skip and a jump away from his bust on Adelaide Street, The Trials of Oscar Wilde at Trafalgar Studios is just that: an avid and vivid telling of one of London’s most famous and notorious LGBT children.
For the most part, The Trials of Oscar Wilde is a morbidly fascinating tale. As a man persecuted for his sexuality, we are, of course, ultimately on his side. Yet Peter Craze’s production displays more nuance than this; this is not a black and white case, but rather various shades of [Dorian] grey. Wilde’s infatuation with youth saw him chasing after boys, with boys being the operative term: some of the “indecent acts” that Wilde engaged in were with those still in their late teenage years, swayed by Wilde’s wealth and fame (if the case for the prosecution is to be believed). Couple this with the fact that at times Wilde comes across as a highly unsympathetic character, immensely elitist even, lamenting “the brutes and illiterates” that permeate society. Kudos therefore to John Gorick for providing such depth to the role, especially considering his handicap of sporting such a distractingly dubious wig.
Oscar Wilde this may be about, but this production is most definitely an ensemble piece, and a very strong one at that. As defence and prosecution, Gorick is flanked by Rupert Mason and William Kempsell, with the owlish figure of Mason shining in particular. He is clipped, relentless and unremitting – and more than matches Wilde/Gorick in this game of verbal dexterity, knowing just when to raise an eyebrow, purse the lips, throw out a perplexed expression, or smell blood upon his opponent and go in for the killer blow. The result is tense, nervy, riveting stuff.
What makes the piece so remarkable is that it is written by Wilde’s own grandson – pretty incredible considering that Wilde died 114 years ago. Merlin Holland’s words therefore hold a greater weight and standing, yet are impressively unsentimental too. Holland merely wishes to tell the story of his grandfather with clarity and precision: the poignancy is a mere side-product. The result is a natural poetry and intensity in the writing of which Wilde himself could well have approved.
Wilde was found guilty of gross indecency in 1895. His protestations were drowned out by cries of “shame” from the public gallery. On exiting tonight, the audience were greeted by volunteers from Stonewall, shaking buckets and collecting money; this would suggest that the battle for tolerance has some way to go yet. I wonder what Wilde would make of it all. My hunch is that he’d think up something witty to say.
The Trials of Oscar Wilde is playing at Trafalgar Studios until 8 November. For more information and tickets see the ATG Tickets website.
Photo by Evolution Photos.