Writer: Merlin Holland & John O’Connor
Director: Peter Craze
Reviewer: Fran Beaton
Oscar Wilde is one of the few British figures to whom everyone feels they have some connection. Whether it’s just as a fan of Earnest or a sense of camaraderie over a trite epigram, the British public is completely Wilde obsessed and with good reason. However, no one has a claim to this quite so much as Wilde’s only grandson, Merlin Holland, who co-wrote this amazing piece.
The Trials of Oscar Wilde begins with the libelling of Wilde by Lord Queensberry. It then depicts both the libel trial and the two subsequent court cases with Wilde himself in the dock. It is a heartbreaking story and painful to watch such a brilliant man become undone by his sexual proclivities.
The script is sensational, taking a lot of the dialogue directly from the transcripts of the trial. A beautiful balance is struck between Wilde’s flippant, clever retorts and the more tender moments when he appreciates his vulnerability and the impasse in which he finds himself. The included snippets of Wilde’s work are not only theatrically effective but shed intellectual light on these pieces that would not have been appreciated out of the context of the trials.
Portraying Oscar Wilde is a task that should be left to only the most consummate of actors, what with the plethora of talent that has performed this rôle in various forms across the past century. Fortunately, John Gorick is exactly that. There is something irresistible about his portrayal; perhaps it is the clear enjoyment Gorick gets as Wilde taunts his accusers. He delivers the more vulnerable lines in a way that is just heartbreaking. The most effective moment comes as Wilde is led away by a policeman: no words are exchanged yet the audience is chilled.
The other two actors, Rupert Mason and William Kempsell, play a myriad of other rôles and it is remarkable the energy with which they throw themselves into this: the audience cannot help but be in awe when, near the end of this intense piece, and having portrayed over ten characters between them, Mason dons bonnet and wig to show chamber maid Jane Cotter. He is as convincing in this part as in any his more traditional characters.
Oscar Wilde’s meteoric rise and cataclysmic fall will continue as a point of obsession to many. Though to us the idea of imprisonment for homosexuality is absurd and outdated, one must remember how recently the law was changed and how in many countries it has not been. This piece is important because not only does it give the audience an insight into a rather oblique period of Wilde’s life, it also instils in us a sense of injustice at his, and so many others’, misfortune.
Photo: Evolutions Photo : Runs until Sat 12th July 2014