Review: The Judas Kiss (Old Fitz Theatre)

redlineVenue: Old Fitzroy Theatre (Woolloomooloo NSW), Feb 15 – Mar 11, 2017
Playwright: David Hare
Director: Iain Sinclair
Cast: Robert Alexander, Luke Fewster, Simon London, Hayden Maher, Hannah Raven, David Soncin, Josh Quong Tart
Image by John Marmaras

Theatre review
Oscar Wilde’s career was cut short, when in 1895, just several months after The Importance Of Being Earnest first opened, he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for homosexual behaviour. David Hare’s The Judas Kiss is a chronicle of Wilde’s downfall, with Act 1 detailing his last day of freedom, and Act 2 summing up his final years in exile and poverty.

Hare’s writing is nothing short of sublime. The beauty of his language lives up to our expectations of Wilde’s speech and milieu, along with gripping philosophy incorporated into its plot at every turn. It is a rewarding intellectual experience, but the play is also rich with romantic and emotional dimensions that have the ability to engage the more empathetic sides of our attention.

Under Iain Sinclair’s heavily melancholic direction, the show’s humorous Act 1 becomes more sombre than necessary. A dark cloud looms over all the brilliant wit and notorious flippancy associated with Wilde, taking away the laughs, and causing the gravity of the piece to appear too plain and obvious. Sinclair’s style is more effective in Act 2, where the serious tone provides good support to the dramatic unravelling of its main characters.

Playing Wilde is Josh Quong Tart, an actor capable of great intensity, excellent at portraying the role’s inner turmoil. We see him grapple with the writing’s complexity, slipping in and out of resonance, but Quong Tart proves himself to be always captivating even in momentary lapses of authenticity. The Judas in question is Wilde’s lover Alfred, performed by Hayden Maher who brings youth and energy to the stage, but his interpretation is a simplistic one that detracts from the story’s otherwise extraordinary depth. Simon London leaves a remarkable impression with his disciplined, understated approach as Robbie, a quiet personality given tremendous presence by the actor.

Kudos must also be given to Jonathan Hindmarsh’s extremely ambitious set design. Breathtakingly constructed by Colin Emmerton and Gautier Pavlovic-Hobba, one can hardly imagine the effort required for its daily assembly and dismantling.

The persecution of Oscar Wilde has made him an unwilling hero of our LGBT movement, one that is hungry for historical figures to help validate our existence, and to provide contexts for our narratives of struggle. People who had suffered before, tend to have their stories wiped away by the same dominant forces responsible for their mistreatment, so we cling on tightly to the tales that remain. Wilde is remembered not only for his legacy in writing, but also his part in helping us articulate, as a community to the wider world, the prejudice we face, and the value we bring to the world.