Pros: The heart wrenching and stirring performance by Alastair Brookshaw.
Cons: That’s tough. I wasn’t sure about the lighting, which I found a bit distracting.
I would not have wanted to be on the receiving end of Oscar Wilde’s letter, written to his former lover Lord Alfred Douglas from the writer’s prison cell in Reading Jail. The “lord of language” sums up all his linguistic powers to forge a sermon of anger, sorrow and pain. Lord Douglas – or Bosie – had betrayed Wilde in the 1890s by making his love letters public and thus revealing his homosexuality; consequently this led to Wilde’s imprisonment and public humiliation.
Paul Dale Vickers adapted Oscar Wilde’s letter to form a hauntingly beautiful and sad musical, starring a brilliant Alastair Brookshaw as the shamed and sorrowful Wilde. Vickers entered De Profundis in Leicester Square Theatre’s The New Musical Project, where it became the inaugural winner. When I think of musicals playing around Leicester Square I usually conjure up images of huge stages, thousands of seats, and productions mainly catering to tourists. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by the Leicester Square Theatre’s tiny and intimate auditorium, which made the musical’s impact even more forceful and moving. We encounter a small, bare wooden stage with a single bench, representing Wilde’s prison cell. The writer himself is dressed in baggy, dirty clothes. For the flamboyant and glamorous man that Wilde was before his arrest this is no doubt a horror.
In the stirring hour that follows – mostly sung but sometimes recited – we learn of Wilde and Douglas’ relationship: a love affair peppered by jealousies, scenes, and injustices. Wilde is haunted by Douglas’ hold over him in those years, how a great writer such as himself could be so subjected. He mulls over Douglas’ words – “When you’re not on your pedestal, you’re not interesting” – convinced that Douglas was only drawn to him by Wilde’s place in literature. We learn of Douglas’ betrayal and the humiliating court case that followed, led by Douglas’ father.
Alastair Brookshaw is brilliant in the role of the eloquent writer teetering on the edge of insanity as fortune “sends every possible sorrow knocking on my prison door”. I think I enjoyed De Profundis more than I ever have Wilde’s most performed play, The Importance of Being Earnest, which feels even sillier when compared to this profound and poetic piece. The music too, played by Michael Riley, was simply beautiful, and I found myself humming the tunes all the way home.
One element that I found a bit distracting was the lighting. I very much liked the single bare lamp above the cell, and the light that came through the prison bars, forming criss-cross patterns on the floor. However, the addition of blue and red lighting, and constant changes, seemed unnecessary and took away from the overall piece.
This is a beautiful new musical that combines stirring music, great performances, and an intriguing glimpse into a crucial living moment of one of the English language’s most famous writers and playwrights. Oscar Wilde probably did not foresee his letter turning into a musical more that a century after writing it, but it certainly does work well.
Writer: Oscar Wilde, adapted by Paul Dale Vickers
Director: Stuart Saint
Musical Director: Michael Riley
Producers: Martin Witts and Lesley Ackland
Box Office: 08448 733433
Booking Link: http://leicestersquaretheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873510884/events?TSLVq=dc96f9c9-9913-40ee-93dc-8aaf67cd79b4&TSLVp=b3b9cd29-949c-4a38-b9a0-6f91ba943ea9&TSLVts=1399547354&TSLVc=ticketsolve&TSLVe=leicestersquare&TSLVrt=Safetynet&TSLVh=e90596174d2159e1575e983bd688546d
Booking Until: 8th June 2014