I first saw David Hare’s 1998 The Judas Kiss in 2012 at Hampstead Theatre in London. Four years on, the production, directed by Neil Armfield, has come to Brooklyn, with four of the seven-person cast unchanged, including Rupert Everett as a charismatic, but ultimately broken, Oscar Wilde.
The play is in two acts. The first is set in 1895, just before Wilde’s arrest and imprisonment. Robert Ross (Cal MacAninch) begs Wilde to flee the country while Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie, (Charlie Rowe), pins his hopes on a last minute reprieve from the Home Office.
|Everett and Rowe as Wilde and Bosie|
The second act skips forward in time to after Wilde’s imprisonment, as he and Bosie live their last few months together in poverty and obscurity near Naples. Hare has more room for imaginative speculation here than in the first act, where much of the evening’s drama is a matter of historical record. His Bosie has moments of redemption, despite his general unreasonableness and it is left to him—not Wilde—to give a vocal defence of homosexuality, despite Wilde’s eloquence on the subject in the here elided trial.
In Act One, light relief comes from Wilde’s quips (delivered with panache by Everett) and the antics of the hotel staff (two of them begin the production in flagrante, setting the tone for a production that doesn’t shy away from repeated full frontal nudity). In Act Two, an Italian fisherman, Galileo (Tom Colley), plays a similar role, but, while the audience still titters, his tryst with Bosie has a darker edge, reflecting as it does on the now muted, and static, Wilde.
|Jessie Hills, Elliot Balchin and Alister Cameron as the hotel staff|
Watching the production again, four years on and in a very different theatre, many of my reactions were similar. Most notably, on both occasions, I found there was a predictability in Wilde’s character, and his witticisms, which makes the play feel familiar even to a first time viewer. Everett’s characterisation is spot on, but you can’t help but wonder about the play—what is this adding to our understanding of Wilde, his arrest and Victorian attitudes to ‘the love that dare not speak its name’? The first time I watched the play though, the tragedy of Ross’s character hit me much harder—watching in Brooklyn it definitely seemed this was the story of Wilde’s tragedy, and Rupert Everett’s play.
The Judas Kiss will be performed at BAM until June 12. You can purchase tickets here.