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A CurtainUp London Review
The Trials of Oscar Wilde
The first trial sees Wilde as the accuser, not the accused, when he takes the Marquess of Queensberry to court for libel after he leaves a card at Wilde's club, the Albermarle, saying Oscar Wilde "posing somdomite" (sic). Wilde withdraws the libel case against Lord Alfred Douglas' father but is prosecuted himself, arrested the same day for "gross indecency"after Queensberry's counsel send all the case papers to the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The play opens with Wilde hearing the words of one of his plays and with the unpleasant Queensberry (Rupert Mason) delivering a bunch of rotten vegetables to the stage door of the Theatre Royal Haymarket where Wilde's play An Ideal Husband had just opened. It is the letters and literature which dominate the first trial as Wilde explains the letter, subject of an attempted blackmail, which he later published as a sonnet.
Just two actors take all the parts except for John Gorick's remarkable portrayal of Wilde. Rupert Mason plays the waspish Queensberry, and Edward Carson the Irish barrister who prosecuted Wllde, and who had been at school with Wilde. William Kempsell plays Wilde's counsel Sir Edward Clarke QC and many other roles, the working class rent boys who dine with Wilde and who received money and a silver cigarette case. Versatile as these two are in multiple roles, it is John Gorick's haunting performance as the doomed writer that stays with me.
Gorick resembles Wilde: a long face and generous mouth with his hair falling onto his forehead. Tall and foppishly dressed, placing his thumbs in the pockets of a brocade waistcoat, Wilde's words are those from the transcripts of the trials. He starts confidently enough but as the realization of his hubris dawns he gets more and more dejected and hesitant. He realizes he has made a mistake when he says that Bosie's college servant was too ugly to kiss. He is questioned about "the love that dares not speak its name."
The set is a simple iron gate for Wilde in the dock but there are numerous costume and wig changes for the other two actors which are also part of the variety of the production.
Unlike some of the plays and films about Wilde written recently, The Trials of Oscar Wilde does not speculate on the question why Wilde pursued the case against Queensberry and stayed in England when so many of his friends and confidantes advised that he should flee to the continent, certainly as soon as Queensberry was likely to be acquitted. De Profundis, written later, gives us some clues as to Wilde's thinking but it does not form part of this play.
Although the 1890s are called the Naughty Nineties, there is no tolerance for Oscar Wilde as homophobia reigned. I always wonder what great works we were denied because of the loss to literature of the greatest English wit at 45. Wilde's stellar scholastic achievements are read out in the first trial. How sad is it that Wilde was unable to persuade the second jury to acquit him. The jury at the first trial for gross indecency had done just that as they couldn't agree on a verdict. There is a sparkle when Mr Gill is asking Wilde about the cost of the gifts of silver cigarette cases and Wilde replies that they are less expensive that giving jeweled garters to ladies and Mr Gill visibly twitches.
Wilde is left bankrupt after the trials and his belongings from the house in Tite Street Chelsea are auctioned.
The purported recording of Wilde's voice has been judged fake so we do not know what he sounded like although I wonder whether in the upper class delivery there would have been some soft traces of his Dublin upbringing?
The honesty and authenticity of The Trials of Oscar Wilde is striking. Merlin Holland's life's work has been to read and write about all that was written by and to his famous grandfather. John Gorick's strong performance will ensure we remember the words that Wilde actually spoke.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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