wilde
Monday, 30 November -0001

THE JUDAS KISS

Rupert Everett delivers the role of his life as the broken, battered Wilde

Written by Sam Taylor
Oscar Wilde is a fulsome character for any actor to embrace, but Rupert Everett has the advantage of living closer to his legacy than most. This month sees the publication of his latest memoir, Vanished Years, a book stocked full of bon mots worthy of the Irish genius himself. At his arch best there is a slim sheet between the two, but for one big difference: Everett is an openly gay man in an accepting world. In 2012 he can quip and not be damned.

David Hare's revision of Judas Kiss is theatre at its best. Liam Neeson, no slouch, had a tough time with the role when it first aired at the Almeida, and if it were to be staged again, the script needed a good going over. Hare hasn't disappointed: it is now a compelling drama that will no doubt transfer as most Hampstead Theatre goodies do.

The faint-hearted might imagine that this is a play simply about the dark world of 19thcentury sexual repression, of Wilde's fatal obsession with Bosie Douglas, the foppish son of the Marquess of Queensberry. There is plenty of male nudity. But it is essentially a tragedy about fathers and sons – both Wilde and Queensberry end up losers.

The drama opens post Wilde's ill-fated libel trial of 1895 and ends with the sordid reality of a wrecked life in rat-infested
Naples. The plaudits have gone, along with the star table at the Café Royal, the circle of wit and influence long disbanded, leaving only Bosie and his obvious disdain.

You are either a Rupert Everett devotee or you aren't. I am besotted but, even if he's not in your top five, Freddie Fox's ruthless portrayal of Bosie is mesmerising. Having brought Wilde to his knees quite literally (Everett plays him as a barely mobile, bloated figure) he then removes his last chance of a future: his children. Cal MacAninch plays the sane, desperate, Robbie Ross, whose pleas for Wilde to return to his wife fall on deaf ears – Constance cuts him off and he never sees his children again.

Some historians have argued that Lord Queensberry was motivated by love when he first intervened – and certainly his initial notes to his son about their relationship were concerned and caring, but eventually the fear of public scandal took hold.

'I do not know what the Queensberry Rules are,' said Wilde. 'But the Oscar Wilde rule is to shoot on sight.'

In this instance, Everett scores a direct hit.

Until 13 October at Hampstead Theatre, London NW3: 020-7722 9301, www.hampsteadtheatre.com


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