The Trials of Oscar Wilde is currently showing for its last week at Trafalgar Studios, formerly Whitehall Theatre. It is co-written by John O’Connor and Merlin Holland, the latter being the only Grandson of Oscar Wilde.
Oscar Wilde’s downfall began with The Marquis of Queensbury (the father of Wilde’s younger lover Lord Alfred Douglas aka ‘Bosie’) when he left a visiting card at the Albemarle Club addressed to ‘Oscar Wilde posing as somdomite’ [sic]. This in turn led to Wilde’s rash and short-sighted decision to take Queensbury to court, which as we know worked against him and eventually resulted in his conviction of two years hard labour.
As soon as we – the audience members – take a seat in the small intimate studio, we become the jury on Wilde’s trial. Extracts from the original transcript in the libel case are used, which brings that period in 1895 into the present day, and it has since become one of the most high-profile court cases.
This is a three-man play with some superb acting from all three actors: John Gorick, Rupert Mason and William Kempsell. John Gorick plays Mr. Wilde throughout whereas the other two actors swap acting roles. John Gorick plays Wilde with such conviction it is as if Wilde stands before us in all his genius and wit. There are a great many quotes and passages spoken for literary or philosophical lovers.
For example, the sensual letters from Wilde to Bosie:
‘It is a marvel that those red-roseleaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing’ and ‘You are the divine thing I want, the thing of grace and beauty’
Reading material from Wilde’s works such as The Picture of Dorian Gray, and ‘contributions’ to journals/magazines as ‘evidence’ (as it was in the trial) is an insight for us of course, but Oscar Wilde defends that he doesn’t write for moral purposes, that these are his thoughts about literature and art, not life. He makes a clear distinction between the experience of the artist, and anyone who is thereby not an artist. The justification comes from his art: ‘I think it is perfectly natural for any artist to admire intensely and love a young man. It is an incident in the life of almost every artist.’
The play portrays two very opposing sides: the creative, artistic mind of Wilde versus the cold, righteous and austere tone of the trial hearing. There’s a great fluctuating between sides, but one can’t help but feel that Wilde gets the better of the courts solely through his remarkable, subverting use of language. Rarely does he answer Mr. Carson, the defence attorney with a straight answer. That is of course until language fails him and as Wilde’s grandson says: ‘Wilde effectively talks himself into prison.’
At times, the play is humorous but of course the accusations are far from light-hearted. The success of this production lies in the rather neutral stance where one comes out of the play not really knowing how to judge Oscar Wilde, but to form our own opinions based on the evidence presented to us.
by Heather Wells
http://www.trafalgar-studios.co.uk/ on until 8th November 2014