When asked to recite Oscar Wilde’s career highlights, few people think of his children’s literature. The Picture of Dorian Grey, The Importance of Being Earnest and that stretch in Pentonville (for...what was it again?) will all make the shortlist. Lurking in the footnotes to his life and times, however, lies a fleeting acknowledgment to Wilde churning out some kids’ lit during his tragically short time on this earth. Like everything else Wilde turned his hand to, it’s effortlessly accomplished, even if you won’t be reading about it in Buzzfeed’s 10 Most Shocking Things Oscar Wilde Ever Did (GIF Edition).
Thankfully, Wild About Wilde is here to restore the playwright to his rightful place as a children’s author. The two-person show takes place inside a yurt in the courtyard of The Three Sisters. It’s a fitting juxtaposition, ‘Yurt!’ being the sound most patrons make as their eighth pint is regurgitated into a plastic glass as they stumble back onto the Cowgate.
With little more than a pick-n-mix bag of plastic props and oodles of brio, our duo take us through a triumvirate of Wilde tales, starting with The Young King. Tasked with playing a multitude of roles, the actors turn to the audience for help and before long everyone is reading a line off the cue cards and roaring their support. As the king lapses into a series of nightmares, he’s forced to contemplate the wretched conditions under which his subjects must create the regal raiment. It’s an epiphany akin to wavering in the Primark queue as you ponder whether the 54 items you’re acquiring for a tenner were produced under wholly ethical conditions. Back in Wilde’s day, ‘YOLO’ was yet to become a thing, which is why the young king chooses to exhibit more compassion than today’s cut-price shoppers. As Wilde famously lamented in The Picture of Dorian Gray, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
For the iPad generation, the reenactment of a dead playwright’s stories – no matter how skillfully done – will fall flat. For grown ups and the more imaginative kids in attendance, however, Wild About Wilde is hella good.