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Review Round-up: Critics go Wilde for Everett in Judas Kiss

David Hare's The Judas Kiss, starring Rupert Everett and Freddie Fox, opened to press this week (12 September 2012, previews from 6 September) at Hampstead Theatre.

The revival of Hare’s play, which premiered in 1998, chronicles the later life of Oscar Wilde (Everett) and his lover Bosie Douglas (Fox), set on the eve of his arrest for gross indecency, and subsequently a night of his life in Italian exile after two years’ hard labour in Reading prison.

Directed by Neil Armfield, it runs until 13 October.

Theo Bosanquet

Rupert Everett seems near-perfect casting in the central role, providing the required combination of physical presence and vocal eloquence… I'm not wholly convinced by Hare's portrayal of Wilde at this stage of his life. Prison undoubtedly broke him - he was only a few years from death - to a greater degree than is revealed here. And Bosie's endless hissy fits also wear thin, leaving Fox with little to do but strike poses and shout. But nevertheless, Everett holds us in the palm of his hand as the centrepiece of an evening rich in detail (particular credit belongs to designer Dale Ferguson's fabric-infused settings) and fitting testament to one of the greatest characters the English stage has witnessed.

Sam Marlowe
The Times

…It’s a subtle, dense but dangerously static piece; yet Neil Armfield’s delicate production is as taut and resonant as piano wire, and exquisitely acted. As an absorbing Oscar, Rupert Everett…moves with a weary flourish, as if the business of maintaining his celebrated persona has become exhausting. Cal MacAninch’s gentle, grave Robbie Ross, Wilde’s friend and former lover, offers the succour that’s in short supply from Freddie Fox’s impossibly pretty Bosie, sneering, snorting and stamping his feet…Fox makes Douglas more than a spoilt, aristocratic brat…In the production’s final moments, Rick Fisher’s eloquent lighting creates such a huge shadow of Fox that he seems to tower over the hunched Everett like the Selfish Giant of Wilde’s story for children…Everett’s Wilde is…tragic, heroic, human: a flawed Christ figure, fascinating and deeply affecting.

Michael Billington


…The Wilde that emerges is a multifaceted character: one who can either be admired for his uncompromising moral integrity, or pitied for his wilful capacity for self-destruction…It allows Rupert Everett to give the performance of his career…Everett never lets us forget Wilde's enduring intelligence…Freddie Fox does all he can with Bosie, suggesting that, beneath the tantrums, he was governed by the aristocratic urge for self-preservation, and there is good support from Cal MacAninch, whose eminently sane Robbie Ross plays Horatio to Wilde's reckless Hamlet. I wasn't crazy about Dale Ferguson's design, which, with its rumpled-velvet surround for the Cadogan hotel, proves tricky for the actors to negotiate. But I was moved by Hare's searching portrait of a one-sided love that for Wilde proved to be salvation and destroyer alike.

Dominic Cavendish
Daily Telegraph


…director Neil Armfield gives us not so much a revival as a miraculous rehabilitation. Yes, I have some qualms about Everett’s performance...the once finely chiselled, nowadays more haggard Everett needs to flaunt his inner dandy more to give a greater sense of how the hallowed genius once captivated. Regardless of Everett’s husky restraint, and the striking immobility of his towering frame and aquiline features, The Judas Kiss still stands arrestingly disrobed before us, all the same, as a scintillating play of ideas whose power stealthily increases…Bosie (played with fantastic child-in-a-nursery petulance by Freddie Fox)…You can see that, grandiosely, in Christ-like terms of sacrifice, but strip away the mythology that has grown up around Wilde, and you behold instead just a remarkable man making ordinary, necessary choices. 

Fiona Mountford
Evening Standard

…it’s revealed as a rich, resonant piece of writing, which at last boasts the ideal cast…One of the many delights of Neil Armfield’s whip-sharp production is the distinct mood that he carves for each act…Everett isn’t the most internal of actors, so a snap reaction would be to report that the role of the flamboyant man of bons mots suits him perfectly. Which it does…Everett, aged and dressed most convincingly, accesses emotions in a way I’ve never seen in him before…Fox, who has the look of a petulant cherub, intriguingly suggests a boy playing a man’s game, confident that a safety net of wealth and privilege will eventually catch him when he falls. Outstanding.

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail

…Sir David Hare’s play, while witty and in places interesting, is on the slow side, the second half being unfeasibly static…Mr Fox looks the part and does lots of fringe flicking and pouting, but that is about the strength of it. A little more slyness is needed. Mr Everett does OK but the lopsidedness of the second half - when Oscar barely moves from his chair yet still must speak most of the lines - is against him. Also: how about giving him a touch of an Irish accent? At present this is a bit of a drawlathon. I caught the show in a preview, so the pace may improve with the run. But this may be one chiefly for Wilde devotees.

Tom Wicker
Time Out

…a string of brilliant bon mots gilt some sharp edges. Director Neil Armfield emphasises this by draping the Hampstead stage in sumptuous crushed velvet and then filling it with casual nudity, from randy hotel servants to an Italian fisherman…Cal Macaninch's Ross is agonised by unrequited love, while Freddie Fox is a revelation as Bosie…Initially, Rupert Everett's Wilde seems flamboyantly familiar. But as the writer loses everything, we understand that this was deliberate. Replacing drolly-delivered quips with weary wisdom, Everett movingly reveals a Wilde for whom superficiality has been self-protection. Some argued that casting was a weakness of the original West End production of The Judas Kiss. But it's just one of many strengths in Armfield's well-paced, funny and poignant production.


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