At one point in the first act of The Judas Kiss, Oscar Wilde admits to always having had “a low opinion of what is called action. Action is something my mother brought me up to distrust.” While a very Wildean comment, it does rather highlight playwright David Hare’s fundamental challenge on this occasion – how to hold an audience’s attention when your main protagonist is a passive fatalist and essentially too noble to be really entertaining.
That Hare never entirely succeeds is obvious; there’s very little suspense in either situation presented in the play – the first act focusing on the day before Wilde’s arrest for sodomy, while the second is set some months after he has left prison, essentially a broken man. In part, this is down to him so clearly delineating Wilde and the narcissistic young Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas that they have no room to surprise us. Given the play’s somewhat topsy-turvy West End history – critically mauled when starring Liam Neeson and Tom Hollander, critically praised with Rupert Everett and Freddie Fox in the lead roles – it’s clear you really do need to cast it just right in order for the play to properly bloom.
This is just as much the case with an amateur production, but EUTC’s Alvaro Gallego (producer) and Vlada Kravtsova (director) only gets things partly right. Despite having something of a stoop, the lean Nuri Syed Corser at least gives a precocious energy to proceedings as Bosie, roaming back and forth across the full-width of the stage in stark contrast to the other cast members who tend to stand in tableau formation. Yet, while Daniel Omnes successfully avoids the more effete clichés sometimes used to characterise Wilde, he only sporadically comes into his own in the second act, when a clearly fractured Wilde is beginning to comprehend the true reality of his situation. Even here, though, there are moments when Omnes is more focused on remembering what his character says and does than with what he’s feeling.
The rest of the cast give reasonable support, not least Joshua Zither (as Wilde’s oldest friend “Robbie” Ross) and Francesco Sarandrea, who genuinely excels as both “closeted” hotel manager Sandy Moffat and the somewhat more “relaxed” Naples fisherman Galileo Masconi. Adam Butler and Erin Reed do what they can with their brief, one-dimensioned hotel staffers Arthur and Phoebe, although their opening erotic dance routine is frankly a distracting and tonal mis-step from which it takes the production far too long to recover.
Things are not helped by the awkwardness of some of the dialogue; time and again, the cast appear too conscious of speaking over each other’s cues, with the result that the dramatic cut and thrust of their arguments never quite comes to life. Occasionally amusing, but seldom exciting, this production simmers but never comes to the boil.