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Friday, 18 January 2013

The Judas Kiss - Duke of York's Theatre - Thursday 17 January *****


Rupert “Lazarus” Everett has had more career resurgences than Kylie. I first caught him wet behind the ears and fairly new to London (me not him) in the original run of Another Country and have followed the travails of his career ever since. Now he is a grand elder Wilde boy of British theatre and I am just older.

Walking to the Duke of York’s to collect my tickets half an hour before curtain up, Everett is coincidentally walking beside me. In trainers, jogging pants and padded jacket, he looks exactly as you expect Rupert Everett to look, tall, trim, handsome, but drawing no attention from the other punters milling around the front of the theatre. 30 minutes later he is on stage inhabiting Oscar Wilde to such an extent that he is all but unrecognisable from the sporty, hot, metrosexual I had just clocked on St Martin’s Lane.

This transfer from Hampstead Theatre of David Hare’s 1998 play examines Wilde’s all-consuming and destructive relationship with the much younger Lord Alfred Douglas, Bosie. The first act is set in the Cadogan hotel on the day Wilde is to be arrested and charged with gross indecency and the second five years later, after Wilde has served his prison sentence and is in penury in self-imposed exile in Naples.
 

Freddie Fox as Doulgas is every inch the arrogant, petulant, spoiled rich kid with an inflated sense of his own self-importance. He considers his work as a poet to be every bit equal to Wilde's and even questions Wilde’s description of him as “one of the finest poets in Britain”. Selfish and boorish, but aristocratically beautiful in his powder blue suit, his only concern is saving his own skin. Everett’s Wilde is a towering creature with a towering intellect, treating servants as he treats the aristocracy, throwing money, thanks and glittering bon mots around in equal measure. Everett is magnetic, leaving us in no doubt that this is a man that knows he is about to be destroyed, his arrogance no match for Bosie’s, but helpless in the face of love, eating lobster then sleeping whilst awaiting his fate. He is well aware of the machinations of his toy boy, but is so enamoured of this foppish vision that he is stubbornly led to the slaughter on a wave of false bombast and procrastination. All to the incredulous frustration of his long time friend and first love, the grounded Robbie Ross, Cal Macaninch a study in quiet desperation, and whose every attempt at help is thwarted.
 
Act two opens five years on with Wilde, having served his time, disgraced, broke and broken, looking twenty years older and virtually immobile. He feigns disinterest as Bosie is buggered by yet another Neapolitan fisherman, Galileo, Tom Colley unselfconsciously baring his all for his art for most of the act and providing a focal point for most of our attention.


A beautiful moment, when the doorbell of the apartment rings and both Wilde and Douglas think it beneath them to answer so a naked Galileo wet from the shower lets Robbie in without question, is a wonderful prick to the pomposity of both men. It is also a reminder of the times in which the events are taking place and the changes that the 20th century is to bring. 

As if Wilde’s life could not get any worse, Robbie brings bad news that will leave him penniless and dependent on Bosie. Bosie, however, is given a lifeline by his mother and throws Wilde to the dogs once again with barely a second thought other than of his own survival, dismissing his homosexuality as a "phase" in which he overindulged. If anything Everett is even more astonishing, a destitute grand dowager in faded velvet and straw hat, his spirit diminished to a flicker, the long leash with which he may once have held Bosie long disappeared together with his passion and zest for life. It truly is a haunting portrayal.

Director Neil Armfield has done a remarkable job with this dark, sombre piece which nevertheless has plenty of Wildean wit. With a strong supporting cast and gorgeously evocative lighting, courtesy of designer Rick Fisher, often leaving Wilde literally alone in the spotlight, this is the strongest non-musical production I have seen in ages and proves what a force of nature Rupert Everett can be. The last actor I saw inhabit a character to the extent that Everett inhabits Wilde was Mark Rylance in Jerusalem. Without wishing to overdo the hyperbole, this really is one of those moments when you know you are in the presence of greatness. I’d hate to be his understudy.

Booking until 6 April 2013, the extraordinary extraordinarily portraying the extraordinary - The Judas Kiss

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