Any production staged at the stunning Theatre Royal Brighton sets itself up to high expectations and David Hare’s The Judas Kiss does not disappoint.
Despite the promising warning signs of smoking and full frontal nudity, as I settled in amongst the elderly afternoon audience I was completely not unexpecting such an entertaining, discerning and intimately captivating performance.
Set in 1895, The Judas Kiss follows the controversy of Victorian poet, novelist and playwright Oscar Wilde. Forced to choose between love or freedom, the scandal of Wilde’s homosexuality is explored in upfront honesty; the result both humorous and touchingly poignant.
A superb Rupert Everett delivers Wilde’s sophisticated lines with such ease that it is in fact difficult not to believe he is the man himself. However, whilst it would have been perhaps easier for Hare to layer the script in Wilde’s cliched aphorisms, in moving beyond what we know of the author he professes himself “just a character in a narrative with no control as to how the story will end”.
Following Wilde’s imprisonment and downfall the setting shifts in startling contrast from lavish hotel bedroom to desitution in Naples. Removed from beauty and his higher ideals Wilde remains truthful to his beliefs and stands by his young lover Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas) with a frustrating loyalty.
Bosie’s betrayal is consequently heartwrenching and reveals in moving depth Wilde’s vulnerabilty: the man behind the celebrity.
As is to be expected from a play centred upon this ambassador for Aestheticism, director Neil Armfield’s attention to detail is impressive. Every flamboyant costume, prop, scene and sentence has been crafted authentic and exact. Yet for a script so rich it is subtle in its intelligent balance of wit and turmoil. Laugh-out-loud humour taunts cruelly at Wilde’s betrayal, the closing image of Everett’s resigned chuckle hauntingly unforgettable.
Along with Freddie Fox (Edwin Drood in the BBC’s adaptation of The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Cal Macaninch (Andrew Lang in Downton Abbey), Alister Cameron, Tom Colley, Ben Hardy and Kirsty Oswald, this small but highly accomplished cast are compelling and, whilst Everett undoubtedly steals the show, it is in the characters gripping relationships that the play finds its power.
Overall, whether it be the superb cast, stunning production or riveting script (or simply the rare opportunity for some passive smoking and mild voyeurism all in the name of theatre) as the curtain closed I rose to an audience unanimously applauding it “the best thing ever seen”.