The cramped prison cell under Brighton’s Town Hall once more plays host to 368 Theatre Company’s trilogy of jail-based plays, which includes the sad tale of
shines a light on an interesting but dark period of history when prejudices and the law prevented men from revealing their true natures and revelling in the ‘love that dare not speak its name’
Lord Alfred Douglas is the infamous “golden haired youth” who was unwittingly instrumental in the ruination of Oscar Wilde. Penned by the extremely talented Nigel Fairs, who also stars as the ill-fated ‘Bosie’, the story focuses on his relationship with the heiress Olive Custance. Drawn together by their love of poetry and artistic suffering, the couple flout her father’s wishes and marry. Olive is the only woman Bosie could ever love, and through his attraction to her ‘boyish’ looks and talent, we get a real sense of the affection they had for each other in the early years of their relationship.
Abi Harris plays the lithe, artistic Olive with the confidence and assurance of nobility and the teasing word play between the characters is cleverly portrayed. This mismatched pairing of misfits, drawn together by their love of poetry, parties and libelous litigations is the common ground that binds them together, although the ghostly figure of Wilde is always present. Harris also plays other characters that Bosie interacts with, including the judge who sends him off to face the same fate as Wilde, as Bosie ends up in Wormwood Scrubs.
The piece is skillfully directed by Kat Rogers and the old prison cell is a perfectly atmospheric setting. The play opens with Olive reading Bosie’s obituary, then Bosie appears, white faced and grubby as if he’s been dug up from the grave, which is an interesting costume decision. He’s obviously not the red-lipped boy of youth any more but then he isn’t dead yet either, which the couple have a jolly good jape at before Bosie calls the newspaper to inform them.
The choice of venue and Bosie’s ashen appearance becomes clear only at the conclusion of the play as we finally arrive at the setting of Wormwood Scrubs prison in 1924.
Both actors do a wonderfully emotional job of characterisation, as we watch the pair hurl themselves towards their tragic conclusions, but the bare bricked prison walls do nothing to dampen the sound of their shouting, which at times reaches dangerously loud decibels. Left to his own thoughts while staring at these bare walls, Bosie finally makes peace with Oscar Wilde and understands the reasons Wilde condemned him in his writings from Reading jail.
Olive and Bosie is a skilfully written piece brought to life beautifully by the two actors and shines a light on an interesting but dark period of history when prejudices and the law prevented men from revealing their true natures and revelling in the ‘love that dare not speak its name’.