Sunday, 16 March 2014

The Judas Kiss, March 15, 2014 **1/2

The Judas Kiss by David Hare, by Mockingbird Theatre with Theatre Works 
Theatre Works, until March 22, 2014
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on March 15
Stars: **1/2
Review also published in Herald Sun online on Mon March 17, 2014 and in print thereafter. KH

Chris Baldock as Wilde in The Judas Kiss 

The Judas Kiss by David Hare is a clever, albeit wordy, naturalistic play that depicts two short episodes in Oscar Wilde's tragic life immediately before and just after his incarceration for ‘gross indecency’.

Of course, gross indecency referred to homosexuality in 1895 when discreet homosexuality was tolerated, but Wilde (Chris Baldock) was never discreet and his maddening vanity and impracticality did not anticipate public condemnation.

Hare highlights the personal and intimate rather than the public, theatrical Wilde, and his dialogue capitalises on Wilde’s famously witty epithets and notorious flamboyance.

However, Jason Cavanagh’s very static and overly long production does little to animate the text, his choice to enclose the performances in a cramped, box-like set exacerbates the problem, and the acting is uneven.

In the years before the play takes place, Wilde inhabited a fantasy world of happy families, successful theatrical ventures, witty conversation and a secret affair with a pretty, aristocratic lover, Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas (Nigel Langley), son of the Marquis of Queensberry – amongst others.

Act One sees Wilde holed up in the Cadogan Hotel, in the hours prior to his arrest when he might still have escaped to the continent to avoid imprisonment but, in his romantic fog, he chooses to stay with Bosie.

In Act Two, after two years hard labour in Reading Gaol and now totally reliant on the treacherous Bosie, Wilde languishes in Naples in a diminished financial and physical state where this former darling of the London theatre faces abandonment and a tragic, isolated death.

In Act One, Baldock lacks the charismatic vigour, imposing presence and scarifying wit that typified Wilde in his heyday, but he is more successful as the jaded, ailing Wilde in Naples, as he slouches awkwardly in his armchair, sniping at Bosie and Robert Ross (Oliver Coleman).

Coleman is sympathetic and stately as Ross, Wilde’s loyal, former lover who understands the weight and precariousness of Wilde’s circumstances.

Langley looks suitably, prettily boyish as Bosie, the betraying Judas, but the role demands more petulant, aristocratic arrogance tempered with a little of the adoration that he once held for Wilde.

Soren Jensen is dignified as Moffatt, the Scottish butler, but Cavanagh makes a fundamental staging error by tucking Wilde and Bosie’s crucial conversation so far stage-left that the audience’s focus remains centre-stage on Moffatt as he cooks Wilde’s dinner.

Surprisingly in a play about a notorious homosexual, the production opens with a graphic, heterosexual sex scene between servants (Zak Zavod, Lauren Murtagh) that leaves the audience with high expectations of more lurid sauciness.

There is plenty of male nudity in the second half when Bosie and his Italian lover (Nores Cerfeda) lounge around naked, but no more gratuitous sex.

The Judas Kiss is a disturbing but timely reminder that, despite changing attitudes, homosexuality still remains a criminal offence in some countries and socially taboo in others.

By Kate Herbert

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