OPENING NIGHT: DIANA ECCLESTON reviews a tour de force at The Spread Eagle Theatre on Katharine StreetI’ve always been a huge fan of Oscar Wilde. What’s not to love? His elegant flair for fashion and words, the brilliant plays the world enjoys more than ever today and the unforgettable epigrams, such as “We are all in the gutter but some of us are looking at the stars”. I have the fridge magnet.
So I was hugely looking forward to Wilde Without the Boy. And rather disappointed by it.
Gerard Logan’s one-man performance as Wilde is a tour de force, an hour-long dramatisation of the epic De Profundis followed by a recitation of The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
But I was left unmoved.
The piece won The Stage “Best Solo Performer” award at the 2011 Edinburgh Festival, but it all assumes that the audience is familiar with the tragic relationship with heartless aristo Lord Arthur Douglas and the events which led to Wilde’s trial on charges of indecency – at which the judge proclaimed it to be “the worst case I have ever tried”.
He was found guilty and sentenced to two years with hard labour. Wilde wrote De Profundis as a letter to Douglas between January and March 1897, close to the end of his imprisonment. Contact had lapsed between Douglas and Wilde and the latter had suffered from his close supervision, physical labour and emotional isolation. A new prison governor thought that writing might be more cathartic than prison labour, so Oscar was permitted to compose a page a day, each taken away when completed. The letter was returned to him on his release on May 18, 1897, and published in 1905, five years after Wilde’s death.
It is an outpouring of his feelings for Douglas, or “Bosie” as he was known, both venomous and loving. But the image comes across loud and clear that there’s no fool like an old fool and that’s exactly what Wilde was. He squandered his time, money and love on a worthless boy and sadly I got a bit fed up of hearing about it as the tale of woe dragged on.
And I found the actor’s staccato, clipped delivery grating at times.
On a more positive note, Logan’s Ballad of Reading Gaol was a powerful and charismatic piece, a lament for a murderer who was hanged without ceremony while Wilde was imprisoned there and how “each man kills the thing he loves”.
But this is definitely a show for fans of Oscar Wilde and who already know something about his life and tragedy.
This was my first visit to The Spread Eagle Theatre, in the space upstairs above the pub, and it is delightful with its cosy dark red walls and heavy golden framed pictures. In fact, a perfect spot for a period solo show like this one.
- Wilde Without the Boy continues tonight at The Spread Eagle Theatre, where tickets are £10. Click here for bookings
- Diana Eccleston, pictured right, is a Croydon resident and an experienced arts and theatre reviewer for local newspapers
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