I have joined the writing/contributing team of EQView which launched on 1 July 2014. EQView describes itself as:
"EQView is a fresh LGBTQ perspective with a lotta heart. A queer slant on news, views & reviews, across the arts, entertainment, lifestyle and current affairs."
EQView is here:
For my second feature for EQView, I reviewed The Trials of Oscar Wilde at the St James Theatre (Studio). It is a new play dramatizing the libel and criminal trials of Oscar Wilde, co-written by Merlin Holland (Wilde’s only living grandchild) and John O’Connor. Oscar Wilde was at the peak of his career, and the height of his fame, on Thursday 14 February 1895, the triumphant opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest. But less than 100 days later, he found himself a common prisoner, sentenced to two years hard labour, with his career in tatters and his reputation destroyed. It was a swift and brutal fall from grace. This play shows us, for the first time, what happened during those fateful libel and criminal trials which brought about Wilde’s downfall, using the original words spoken in court.
This was a superb production which transported you back to 1895 and, by focusing on the libel and criminal trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895, using the original words spoken in court, presented new material about Wilde’s life to theatre audiences already very familiar with Wilde’s body of work and his life story. Interesting, engaging, intriguing. Bravo!
My review of The Trials of Oscar Wilde is here:
Cut and pasted from the EQView website:
THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE – REVIEW
Last week I went to see The Trials of Oscar Wilde at the St James Theatre (Studio). This new play dramatises the libel and criminal trials of Oscar Wilde and is co-written by Merlin Holland (Wilde’s only living grandchild) and John O’Connor.
The production has been touring extensively around the UK throughout May, June and July, visiting 43 different venues, and the St James Theatre was the final stop on its current tour.
In 1895 Oscar Wilde was at the peak of his career, and the height of his fame. The 14th February that year saw the triumphant opening night of The Importance of Being Earnest. But less than 100 days later he found himself a common prisoner, sentenced to two years hard labour, with his career in tatters and his reputation destroyed. It was a swift and brutal fall from grace. This play shows us, for the first time, what happened during those fateful trials which brought about Wilde’s downfall, using the original words spoken in court.
I love Oscar Wilde’s work, both his plays and his short stories. His work has always delighted, amused and entertained me. No one can beat Wilde for a witty one liner or a quotable quip. I also know Wilde’s life story in broad terms and have read biographies of Wilde and watched films about his life. But I was not familiar with either the libel or the criminal trials which are the focus of this play and so this was new material to me.
Overall I thought the production was superb as it transported me back to 1895, to the courtroom where Wilde was on trial, and to an era where Victorian values ruled and where a gentleman’s word was his bond and his reputation was everything.
All three actors were superb. John Gorick playing Wilde was exceptional, and he brought Wilde vividly to life so you could see the vulnerable human being behind the celebrity writer. Rupert Mason and William Kempsell provided excellent support, by bringing to the stage a cast of colourful characters (13 in total), including the Marquess of Queensbury, lawyers, police officers, young men Wilde was accused of performing illegal acts with, a journalist, a masseur and even a chambermaid! The two actors played a very wide range of characters and personalities involved in the Wilde trials with total conviction.
This was a touring production and so the set was, of necessity, minimal but the few props that were used, like the theatre billboard, were striking, effective and had a purpose. The costumes really helped to conjure up the Victorian era when the play is set, and Wilde’s two costumes were exquisite showing the audience how a rich Victorian gentleman would dress, the impression this gave and the impact it had.
When John Gorick playing Wilde first strode onto the stage, I thought Wilde came across as very proud and arrogant, but I warmed to the character and his predicament over the course of the play. This play does not show us Wilde when he is at the height of his powers and fame, the centre of attention, dominating the conversation in the room, and entertaining and amusing everyone with his witticisms. This play shows us Wilde when he is at his most vulnerable, when he is unsure of himself, facing public humiliation and the total destruction of his life and career.
At the time of his trial, Wilde was just over 40, and had two sons aged 10 and 9 with his wife Constance. Wilde’s undoing was the fact he had had a series of relationships with a number of men, much younger than himself (late teens and early 20s), and who were of a much lower class and social standing (servants and valets). Wilde would actively seek out the company of these men, invite them back to his rooms, and shower them with gifts like silver cigarette cases. Wilde’s feelings for these younger men were deemed immoral and unnatural – the love that dare not speak its name. Wilde was seen as being the centre of a circle of corruption of men who were younger than him and of a much lower class and social standing.
Lawyers prosecuting Wilde believed art and literature had moral consequences and argued that Wilde’s work was immoral and would have a corrupting influence on readers and audiences. The Picture of Dorian Gray was cited as a specific example. The novel was originally published in a monthly magazine in the US and, when it was later published as a novel in the UK, certain sections were erased. These purged sections were those that strongly suggested sodomy as Dorian Gray’s crime. Dorian Gray was therefore used as an example to illustrate the corrupting influence of Wilde’s work.
Wilde argued powerfully that literature and art was about beauty, wit and emotion, not morality. Literature was not moral or immoral, just well written or badly written! In this day and age, Wilde’s argument would definitely have carried the day, but this was a very different time with a very different code of morality.
The criminal trial resulted in Wilde being convicted of gross indecency and sentenced to two years hard labour. This came as a shock to Wilde who had wrongly assumed his fame, celebrity and eloquence would win through. The trial and the conviction indirectly brought about Wilde’s early death. He died just three years after being released from prison. The British State had indirectly killed one of its greatest ever writers and playwrights, merely for being homosexual.
This was an exceptional production which transported you back to 1895 and, by focusing on the libel and criminal trials of Oscar Wilde in 1895 using the original words spoken in court, presented new material about Wilde’s life to theatre audiences already very familiar with Wilde’s body of work and his life story. Interesting, engaging, intriguing. Bravo!