Wednesday, 28 October 1998

The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde, Oct 28, 1998

By Thomas Kilroy, Abbey Theatre
 Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, October 28, 29, 30, 31, November 1, 1998

We all know of Irish-born Oscar Wilde, brilliant, self-absorbed, razor-tongued, who wrote a swag of comic classics. Most know nothing of his abandoned wife, Constance. Thomas Kilroy, with Ireland's Abbey Theatre, has redressed this inequity with his play The Secret Fall of Constance Wilde, here for the Melbourne Festival.

Oscar married bright, young Constance Lloyd in1884 only to betray her soon after with innumerable young men. The steel-cold aristocratic lad who eventually broke both their hearts was Lord Alfred Douglas, AKA Bosie, the inter-galactically narcissistic son of the creep responsible for boxing, the Marquis of Queensberry.

Bosie (Andrew Scott) describes himself as Oscar's inspiration and Constance (Jane Brennan) as his peace. To Oscar (Robert O'Mahoney) she is his lifeline to land and he blithely uses her as his life raft, water wings, goggles and snorkel. Watching these three, one wants to warn Constance, slap Oscar and strangle Bosie.

Director, Patrick Mason, has created a deceptively simple, gloriously theatrical production blending visual, mimetic, and textual elements with exceptional finesse. Images, language and emotions are heightened. Oscar speaks in familiar epithets. He poses and parades while Bosie struts and swaggers. The style tilts toward the mannered and teeters on the hyper-real.

The grand scale and sleek lines of Joe Vanek's set exaggerate the puniness of Wilde in relation to his tragic fate. A terrifyingly tall, narrow staircase is the site of Constance's mysterious 'fall'. Oscar is whisked upward in his gaol cell and huge black screens slam shut like a rectangular camera aperture.

Constance, Oscar and Bosie meet, greet and argue on a simple round downstage but Mason has used the vast depths of the Playhouse to accentuate the smallness of these lives by overwhelming them with enormous puppet figures representing the Magistrate who convicts Oscar and Constance's disreputable father.

His retinue of six attendants, disguised by fencing masks, provide a silent chorus, a jury, a classless commentary. They establish location, attitude, atmosphere with David Bolger's clean, crisp choreography and are a sensitive counterpoint to the dense dialogue. They manipulate and accompany the sweet, pale puppets, the Wildes' innocent sons.

The performances are uniformly inspiring. Scott, as the dilletante Bosie, is suitably dissolute and despicable while O'Mahoney pontificates and carps as Oscar. Brennan, in the most sympathetic character, is dignified, vivid and tragic as Constance. If only we could have shouted a warning down the ages: "Jump ship, Connie. He'll do you no good." Talent is no measure of a man's worth.


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