This is a haunting and powerful solo show that lingers with you long after leaving the theatre, sticking closely to Oscar Wilde’s signature style: simultaneously intellectual and accessible.
This is a show that makes me want to go away, find a copy of the script, and go through it all over again.
Just as Wilde is about to be moved to a new prison – so that he can be released without a media fracas – his manuscript, De Profundis, is returned to him. His reading of the letter is interspersed with sections of Wilde’s trial and extracts of The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Wilde’s poem about a fellow convict’s execution, and life in the jail.
The show is a dramatization of Oscar Wilde’s 50,000 word long letter De Profundis, to Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas), his lover, written whilst Wilde was incarcerated in Reading Gaol for ‘gross indecency with another man’. The original letter already has the feeling of a dramatic monologue, which is unsurprising, considering its author - Gareth Armstrong had a stroke of genius in deciding to dramatize the work for stage.
Oscar Wilde is played excellently by Gerard Logan, a performer experienced with solo shows, who handles the character of Wilde with eerie accuracy. It feels like Wilde himself is in the room. Logan’s mannerisms are close enough to evoke Wilde’s characters, but too human to be fictional. His Wilde is utterly believable in an incredibly moving performance, tracing Wilde’s transition from hollowness, as he describes his broken pleading with Bosie, through duress to his eventual redemption.
Essentially it is a story of someone extracting themselves from an abusive relationship, a tale made even more tragic when you know they returned to each other again a little after Wilde was released, for a few months. It is a painful experience for Wilde to relive and a cathartic experience to watch. In the end, it is Wilde’s noble lack of anger that is really fascinating to observe, and provides a surprisingly uplifting end to the piece about prison and injustice.
The only moment from the entire show that is more miss than hit is the small section of The Ballad of Reading Gaol. It is very peculiar to see Wilde shouting and stamping about the stage repetitively; it doesn’t pull on any emotion, and instead creates confusion. A slightly dodgy light focus also causes the lion in the royal coat of arms to be missing his crown, though the design is mainly simple and effective.
This is a show that makes me want to go away, find a copy of the script, and go through it all over again. You don’t need to know anything about Wilde in order to enjoy the core story of injustice and tumultuous relationships; knowledge just heightens the pleasure.