Monday, 1 March 1999
The Judas Kiss, Feb-Mar 1999
by David Hare
MTC at Playhouse until March 20, 1999
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Recently we have been swamped with versions of Oscar Wilde's story: Wilde, the film starring Stephen Fry, Abbey Theatre's Secret Fall of Constance Wilde and now David Hare's The Judas Kiss. We crave a new angle on Wilde and his dissolute life but, in the re-telling, his story is no less tragic.
Bille Brown is majestic in his portrayal of Wilde. Brown is little known in Melbourne but has a substantial reputation after ten years with the RSC at Stratford and with QTC in Brisbane.
As Wilde, Brown is the pivot of The Judas Kiss which focuses on two narrow corridors of time in Wilde's deteriorating circumstances. Act one occurs in 1895 in the hours prior to his arrest when he might still have escaped to France avoiding imprisonment.
In act two, 1897 in Naples, Wilde is in diminished fiscal and physical condition after two years hard labour in Reading Gaol. He faces abandonment by his lover Bosie, Lord Alfred Douglas (Malcolm Kennard).
Hare highlights the personal and intimate rather than the public, theatrical Wilde. Wilde's creative vision, wit and social position cannot save him from public and judicial vilification.
Discreet homosexuality was tolerated but Wilde was never discreet. His maddening vanity and impracticality did not anticipate public condemnation. He inhabited a fantasy world of happy families, rich lovers, successful theatrical ventures and witty conversation. He was doomed.
Hare's microscopic view of Wilde in two profoundly distressing situations left me oddly unmoved apart from a poignant moment when he weeps over his lobster lunch. Brown is compellingly honest and rich in his portrayal of Wilde's suffering but Hare's text lack surprises - apart from the lobster tears.
This is a clever but wordy naturalistic play which breaks no new ground theatrically or historically. Surprisingly in a play about a notorious homosexual, the hottest scene is a very heterosexual sex scene which opens the play leaving director Neil Armfield with a high excitement level to maintain.
As Bosie, Kennard is suitably petulant and spoiled rich kid-ish. It may be a problem with the text but we need to see his charm and love. How else can we believe in Wilde's passion and commitment to him for so many years?
Glenn Hazeldine as Robbie Ross, Wilde's closest friend, is warm and truthful but his character is thinly drawn. There is a charming cameo as the maid from Felicity Price.