The Old Fitzroy Hotel, with its timeworn brick interior and rabbit warren of rooms, had a welcome feel to it on a sultry Sunday afternoon. However, my plus one and I lingered at the bar only a few minutes. After all, The Judas Kiss, presented by Red Line Productions – the business of the day – was about to begin. Drinks in hand, we wended our way into the black box below and wondered who, exactly, the naked figure reclining on the chaise lounge, facing the back of the stage, was. Oscar Wilde himself?
The ensuing two hours revealed all – pun intended – in this David Hare play, directed by Iain Sinclair, which chronicles the tragic and spectacular fall of famed playwright Oscar Wilde.
The first half is set in an increasingly claustrophobic room in London’s Cadogan Hotel. Outside, the press bay for blood and the police hound Wilde’s heels; inside, tension rises as Wilde dines on lobster and drinks wine, refusing to listen to the advice of his closest friends as his arrest draws ever closer.
Wilde, brilliant, stubborn, romantic, is played to perfection by Josh Quong Tart, as he takes the fall for his lover, the impetuous Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas), played by Hayden Maher. Simon London delivers a nuanced performance as Wilde’s loyal friend Robert Ross, his quiet intensity providing a foil against the impassioned Wilde and Bosie.
The second half transports us to Naples, where a more minimalistic setting foregrounds Wilde’s descent into ruin. Like a slow train wreck, The Judas Kiss is both hard to watch, and hard to look away from, a story full of deeply flawed figures with no happy ending in sight.
Unable to reconcile his romantic worldview with the reality of his situation, Wilde’s own chaotic life contrasts starkly with the structure and order of his intricately plotted plays. How, mused my plus one afterwards, do we reconcile Wilde’s personality – obstinate, intemperate, and self-destructive – with his literary persona – self-assured, inimitable, and timeless?
The Judas Kiss, performed in a pitch-black, pitch-perfect theatre, provides no answers, but the questions it raises makes it a worthwhile, provocative performance.
Elizabeth Foster is a fiction writer who locks herself up all day in her study, but lets herself out on occasion to experience all that Sydney has to offer! You can find her writerly musings at elizabethfoster.com.au
The Judas Kiss runs 15 Feb–11 Mar 2017 at the Old Fitz Theatre (129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo). Tues-Sat 8.15pm, Sun 6.30 pm (140 mins, inc. interval). Purchase tickets now.
The venue is not accessible.
Audience Warning: this production contains full frontal nudity and smoking of herbal cigarettes.