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In Extremis, King’s Head Theatre

Neil Bartlett
Directed by Caroline Devlin
★★★

Pros: An interesting script from a great playwright with two very charming lead performances.

Cons: Some hard-core Wilde fans may have a few issues with the casting.

Our Verdict: Although this is a clever, insightful script delivered beautifully by two talented actors, I didn’t feel like I was looking at Oscar Wilde. The play is still very enjoyable, however, and well worth the ticket price.

Courtesy of Kean Productions

On 24th March 1895, a week before the trial which would eventually cost him everything, Oscar Wilde visited a palm reader in London named Mrs Robinson. Over a period of three months, Wilde’s once privileged life had spiralled into a witch hunt controlled by a gossip-hungry, homophobic society. When I first heard the Wilde / Robinson story, I assumed it must be pure fiction. After all, Wilde was an incredibly clever man and his personal beliefs would have surely led him to judge this woman as either deluded or a charlatan. However, I’ve since been told that Oscar thoroughly enjoyed the artistry of the con artist and that he was intrigued by the notion of fate – a theme often woven through much of his writing.

According to a telegram sent from Wilde to his friend Ada the following morning, the meeting with this psychic most certainly did take place. The two had met once before at a society soirée where Mrs Robinson had rolled out the usual clairvoyant parlour tricks (she predicted extensive foreign travel to the Irish author who was well known for his extravagant trips abroad). The play takes place in the calm of Mrs Robinson’s room where the eerie ticking of an old grandfather clock signals Wilde’s impending demise.

Kean Productions bring together the considerable acting talents of Kate Copeland and Nigel Fairs in a two-hander exploring the events of that evening. The story is told through the ghostly eyes of a deceased Mrs Robinson who, like us, is now fully aware of Wilde’s decline and subsequent posthumous glory. The set is bare apart from two elegant chairs and a round table with delicately embroidered cloths. The surrounding walls are beautiful and elegant but have also become cracked and water-stained over time, reflecting a Victorian society in decay. Kate Copeland handles huge passages of rich, beautiful language with impressive ease and her elegant demeanour suggests an actor who has studied Victorian mannerisms in great depth. The script contains many interesting insights into the world of a turn-of-the-century psychic and includes details of everything from her clientele to choice of home décor.

Nigel Fairs is a very fine actor indeed and just like his co-star, he encapsulates Victorian elegance to great effect. Everything from his stance to how he holds a cigarette looks authentic and effortless. Although it is hard to find fault with his charming performance, Fairs lacks both the physical attributes and the aura required to play Wilde convincingly. It is arguable, of course, to what degree Wilde’s famous flamboyance would have been on display that difficult evening or how weak or strong his Irish accent would have been at this point in his life and yet, despite all the artistic licencing any actor would have to adopt for this role, I felt no real sense of the playwright coming through in Fair’s choices. With his considerable talents, he is perfect to play many of Wilde’s lead male characters but it is difficult to see him as the man himself.

Overall, this is a very worthwhile production filled with gorgeous costumes, charming performances and interesting insights into Victorian society. There is also lots of fun and warmth threaded through what is, in essence, an incredibly sad story.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

In Extremis runs at the King’s Head Theatre until 9th December 2012.
Box Office: 0207 478 0160 or book online at

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