The Judas Kiss
7th Feb 2017
David Hare's play is a tragic love story. It follows the fate of three men who suffer because of the love they have for each other. The play begins just before Oscar Wilde's arrest for gross indecency - a direct result of a libel action he took out on behalf of his lover Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas - Wilde's friends have arranged for him to flee the country to avoid arrest but, swayed by Bosie, he decides to stay and face the consequences. Those consequences being that he is arrested, tried, and sentenced to two years hard labour. His reputation and career ruined.
Act One is set in a room of the Cadogan Hotel. Wilde's friend and former lover Robbie Ross entreats Bosie to allow Wilde to make the right decision and flee. There is clearly no love lost between these two characters - Bosie is petulant and childish, resenting Ross's interference, while Ross is impatient with Bosie's apparent lack of concern for Wilde's safety. As the scene progresses it becomes clear that these two are each jealous of the other's relationship with Wilde. Wilde himself is contrary - he professes to dislike being told how to live and yet is unable to decide for himself which course of
action to take. Eventually he rejects the advice of his friend and decides to stay for the sake of his lover. A decision that is to prove his downfall. Bosie leaves before the police arrive so as to avoid tarnishing his reputation, and Robbie remains against his better judgment to support his friend.
Act two opens after Wilde's release from prison, he and Bosie are living in Naples - they have no money and life is difficult in exile. Bosie amuses himself with a local fisherman, flaunting the relationship before Wilde, yet defensive and jealous when Wilde speaks to his lover in Italian - which Bosie does not understand. It is very clear that their relationship has changed - Wilde still loves Bosie but he sees him now in a truer light. Bosie however remains much the same - demanding, selfish, railing against the injustice but failing to see his own culpability. He blames Wilde's cowardice for the misfortune but cannot see that his own actions have brought them to this pass.
Alex Goodchild and Robbie Ross play their characters well - Bosie demanding and self centred, Robbie earnest and concerned, frustrated by the relationship. Wilde is played by Andrew Barella - with less flamboyance than I expected. We see glimpses of the great man's wit, but his Wilde is subdued, resigned almost, yet expansive towards the staff in the hotel who have helped him. In Act Two his wit is more ascerbic, stemming from his disappointment and heartache. I expected perhaps more passion in Wilde, but on reflection, his demeanour in the last act is one of grace, and generosity in the face of betrayal and disappointment. The final speech is full of pathos. A sad end to the relationship that was the love of Wilde's life and Barella delivers it beautifully.
The team at the Royalty make some challenging choices in their programme. It doesn't always work. This time it does. John Appleton has directed a thoughtful and touching production.
The Judas Kiss plays until Sat 11th Feb.