This musical represents a massive achievement in many senses. The concept is strong, and the composition is elegant. The solo performer is heroic and the staging is astonishing for such a venue. Furthermore, De Profundis is new writing with upmost integrity and class.
De Profundis is new writing with upmost integrity and class.
The show, with music and lyrics by Paul Dale Vickers based on Oscar Wilde’s famous prison letter, was the winner of the Leicester Square Theatre’s first New Musical Project. Vickers does well to craft Wilde’s prose into a satisfying piece of musical theatre, balancing stand-alone songs with freer recitative passages. My main gripe was with some of the more liberally-interpreted lyrics – in order to shoe-horn the prose into song, Vickers has had to tamper with the text. His occasionally forced rhymes fall short of Wilde’s effortless elegance, but what modern writer could hold a candle to such an eloquent predecessor? Vickers’ music complements the words with a wistful, haunting beauty, and his softer ballad sections were particularly successful. However ‘The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name’ – such an iconic turn of phrase, and so deeply meaningful to the gay community – became a nightmarish disco number (perhaps an unfortunate piano arrangement coupled with an unfortunate lighting state) which for me somewhat missed the mark.
West End veteran Alastair Brookshaw truly astounds as Wilde. He avoids a campy portrayal and shows us instead the character’s vulnerability, with an occasional glimmer of his infamous wit. Brookshaw’s voice is delicate and precise, negotiating the considerable virtuosity of the piece with apparent ease. No less virtuosic is the Musical Director Michael Riley on piano – his playing utterly sensitive to Brookshaw’s emotive range. The lighting and sound designs evoke the prison setting, but more than that do well to ebb and flow organically with the tone of the piece. Despite occasional missteps, De Profundis is an incredibly intelligent and tender piece, performed and produced with a huge amount of love and respect for its august subject matter.