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The Judas Kiss, Hampstead Theatre

everything theatre originally reviewed this production in the Hampstead Theatre. It will transfer to the Duke of York’s Theatre from 9th January 2013, where it is currently booking until 6th April 2013: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-judas-kiss/duke-of-yorks/

David Hare
Directed by Neil Armfield
★★★

Pros: Good leads, an important message and beautiful lighting.

Cons: The script leaves much to be desired, despite the aforementioned important messaging.

Our Verdict: Not the best script, but good performances pull up what could otherwise be a poor show.

Courtesy of Alastair Muir for The Telegraph

I walked into the door on the way to see The Judas Kiss. It was all very embarrassing, and was the result of me suddenly being confronted by the sight of one of my favourite actresses heading through the door. I spend enough time celeb spotting at the National that this really should not have fazed me, but never the less there I was, walking into a door. Great way to start an evening. I’m pleased to say it got better, and aside from dropping my programme rather loudly in the first half (are you getting a picture of my clumsiness?) the rest of the night was much more pleasant. The Judas Kiss, originally written in 1998 and the first Hare to be staged at the Hampstead since the new building was opened, revolves around two pivotal moments in the life of Oscar Wilde; the hours before he is arrested on charges of gross indecency and the night that his lover Bosie leaves Wilde, penniless, in Naples.

If I’m totally honest, I’m not 100% convinced by the script. David Hare has become such an institution, and most people will no doubt disagree with me, but while I don’t doubt that the script is dry and incredibly clever in places, to me it felt like the easy portrayal of Wilde. He became almost a caricature; Wilde’s brilliant mind written for the lowest common denominator. It was a little bit of a disservice to a man who wrote some of the greatest plays of the 19th century. Broad brushstroke characters were not limited to the protagonist, but were also employed for those around him. In the staff of the Cadogan Hotel, Hare was presumably attempting to echo the characters of Wilde’s own plays, but what actually unfolded were slightly ridiculous figures of fun. Such figures of fun fit fine (please applaud this excellent alliteration!) into a Wilde, plays crafted to amuse and entertain, but in a play that is otherwise attempting to highlight important, contemporary issues it seems to grate.

But that is not to say that I did not enjoy the play. What I was most anxious about before the show was how Rupert Everett’s performance of such an important historical figure in the theatre world would play out. In actual fact, if anything, Everett’s performance acted to pull the character back from the brink. The stillness he brought to the role, the careful consideration and brilliance of mind were all beautifully portrayed. Freddie Fox has a hard role in the show, as Lord Alfred Douglas, aka Bosie. Bosie is intrinsically unlikeable. Aside from Wilde himself, who seems to see something in the young man that is hidden from the rest of us, Bosie is universally acknowledged by the characters to be selfish and arrogant, and Fox pulls this off with aplomb. Leaving him penniless and heartbroken at the end of the play seems somehow better than remaining with Wilde and further abusing the power he holds over him.

While flawed in some ways the messages of the play remain pertinent and shine through strongly. Young people across the globe are still killing themselves because of the response of their peers or society to their sexuality and we are still grotesquely fascinated with the private sex lives of celebrities. It just reminds you how even when things appear to change so much they are often actually doing a brilliant job of staying EXACTLY the same. Wilde acted as he did, despite the encouragement of the people around him to flee, because he had a personal code of morality that he couldn’t breach despite the potential consequences for himself. Hare’s play may be flawed, but it certainly does a beautiful job of exploring these issues.

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

The Judas Kiss runs at The Hampstead Theatre until 13th October 2012.
Box Office: 020 7722 9301 or book online at http://www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2012/the-judas-kiss/

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