The Trials of Oscar Wilde
Theatre Royal Windsor
Reviewed – 26th March 2019
“a polished and worthwhile show that sheds new light on a familiar tale”
European Arts Company’s production of The Trials of Oscar Wilde opened at Windsor Theatre Royal last night before beginning a nationwide tour that takes in some twenty three venues from Taunton to Wolverhampton and runs until June 1st. This is top-notch court-room drama, with a refreshingly simple set design (Tom Paris) which provides an ideal backdrop for a talented ensemble cast of just four.
The company have revived a much-praised production that toured in 2014 after a sell-out run at the Trafalgar Studios. The story of Wilde’s tragic fall after being prosecuted for “gross indecency with other male persons” is familiar enough, after innumerable biographies and films, including a celebrated version starring Stephen Fry which appeared in 1997. Wilde conducted a tempestuous four year affair with Lord Alfred Douglas (‘Bosie’), the son of the Marquess of Queensberry, who as a result accused the celebrated playwright of ‘posing as a somdomite’ (sic).
Wilde attempted to defend himself against this accusation in court, but withdrew his prosecution when details of his affairs with rent boys emerged in court. A public prosecution followed soon after. What distinguishes The Trials from other accounts is that it was co-written by Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland, using 85,000 words of direct shorthand transcript from the trial, which only came to light in 2000.
What light do Wilde’s very own words shed on this most celebrated of celebrity trials, and how well does this new production tell the tale? In Act One, the libel trial, Wilde unsurprisingly emerges as a boastful, and conceited figure, his evidence peppered with just the kind of bon mots you might expect. But some of his responses are terse too, and by the public prosecution in the second act, repeated slips make his panic plain. John Gorick reprises his role from four years ago. In spite of the posturing and flash waistcoats (splendid costumes by Anett Black), his Wilde is a slightly distant, at times almost glacial figure, trapped in the dazzling lights of a mess of his own making.
Wilde’s own words condemn him and the establishment gleefully brings him down. Much as Wilde admits he loved Douglas, who coined the phrase ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, he proclaims that he is the only person he ever adored. Three other cast members, (Rupert Mason, Benjamin Darlington and Patrick Knox) take turns to play prosecution and defence, rent boy and chamber maid. Rupert Mason is particularly effective as Wilde’s smug accuser in the criminal trial. Benjamin Darlington particularly garners sympathy as Charles Parker, the rent boy who was plainly besotted by his time with Wilde.
Co-written and directed by John O’Connor, this is a polished and worthwhile show that sheds new light on a familiar tale.
Reviewed by David Woodward
Photography by David Bartholomew
The Trials of Oscar Wilde
Theatre Royal Windsor until 30th March then UK Tour continues
Other shows covered by this reviewer: