If an actor is very lucky then, maybe once in their lifetime, a role will come along which fits them like the proverbial glove. For Rupert Everett the role is that of Oscar Wilde, the play is The Judas Kiss and his performance is, quite simply, breathtakingly brilliant.
The play is set at two distinct times in Wilde’s life. Act One takes place in the short time between Wilde’s high-profile trial and his subsequent arrest and incarceration. Oscar returns to his sumptuous room in the Cadogan Hotel, recently vacated by a naked chambermaid and hotel porter who had taken advantage of the empty bed for some fun and frolics, where he meets with his friends to ponder upon his next move.
Already in the room are Wilde’s friend and ex-lover Robert Ross, played with just the right amount of desperation and fear by Cal Macaninch and Wilde’s current “companion” Lord [Alfred (Bosie) Douglas]. Freddie Fox plays this part as a very convincing spoilt rich kid, petulant and childish, self-centred and – ultimately – deceitful.
Ross knows that Wilde should flee the country to avoid the inevitable prison sentence that he faces, simply for being homosexual, but Bosie argues that he should stay to defend his right to love whomever he chooses, although his passionate stance owes a lot more to a feud with his father, the Marquess of Queensberry, than to his love for Oscar.
In Act Two the room is now a somewhat shabby affair in a rented house in Naples. Centre stage sits Wilde, now a broken figure of a man, nothing more than a shadow of his former self but still with a steely wit and a talent for delivering incredibly cutting observations. The loss of his freedom, his wife, his children and his ability to write, all play heavy on his mind and leave him with just an empty gaze.
In the room is a small, rickety, bed where sleeps a naked Bosie, together with his, also naked, new “friend” and local fisherman. The scene gives just a hint at the hedonistic lifestyle that Wilde allowed Bosie to live which, in Wilde’s view, was small sacrifice to keep the object of his love in his life.
A letter arrives from Bosie’s mother offering both him and Oscar financial inducements to end their relationship and, seeing his opportunity to return to his life of wealth and privilege Bosie sets about convincing Oscar that they should both accept the generous offer and, after planting the Judas kiss firmly on Oscar’s lips, he leaves.
The images that hint at Wilde’s secret life of sexual pleasure appear in both acts with special mention going to Ben Hardy who opens the piece by frolicking naked with the chambermaid, and then brazenly offers sexual favours to Wilde’s former lover Robbie, whilst also agreeing to be “punished” for his indiscretion by his manager.
Another mention goes to Tom Colley as the fisherman, Galileo Masconi, who spends half of Act Two naked, with both men being perfect examples of Wilde’s love of the well-toned and beautiful male physique. The small cast work incredibly well together and, topped off by Everett’s magnificent performance, create a masterpiece of theatre that richly deserves its West-End transfer.