“Some love too little, some too long/Some sell, and others buy/Some do the deed with many tears/And some without a sigh/ For each man kills the thing he loves/Yet each man does not die.” – Oscar Wilde: The Ballad of Reading Gaol.
Sensitively directed by Iain Sinclair this production by Red Line Productions of David Hare’s play THE JUDAS KISS would have to be one of the best shows on in town at the moment.
This compelling production is part of the Mardi Gras Festival and looks at the tragic fall of the great author Oscar Wilde.
The play was written in 1998 and Neil Armfield directed a landmark version at Belvoir in 1999 and more recently an overseas production starring Rupert Everett as Wilde.
Hare is regarded as one of the great contemporary British playwrights writers and it is a huge pleasure to hear his magnificent use of language and observe the confident, secure construction of his play.
In the tiny intimate theatre it is as if we are a fly on the wall observing events. Act 1 is set on the 5th of April, 1895, in a room of the Cadogan Hotel in London, the night on which Wilde must decide whether to stay in England, and face imprisonment, or flee.
The Cadogan Hotel, set is plush red velvet curtains, lamps, chairs and tables and crowded with paintings (pick out the Whistlers and St. Sebastian).
After interval, Act 2 is set two years later, on the 3rd December, 1897, after Wilde’s release from prison, in the Villa Guidice at Posillipo, near Naples. This set is minimalist featuring a white backdrop , a chair and a white slab on which Galileo reclines as we enter.
The production features terrific period costumes, designed by Antoinette Barbouttis .
As Wilde, Josh Quong Tart delivers a towering , mesmerising performance. In Act 1 he was benevolent, with the sparkling wit that Hare gives him, warm and generous with a glowing presence.
We, the audience, are annoyed and panicky at his dithering and vacillation – why won’ t he get a move on and escape?!
Tart also reveals the grief and pained irony of Wilde, fatally betrayed by the man he risked everything for. We see a man blindly in love with another who, he discovers, is his Judas, who instead of reciprocating his love, betrays him for money and power.
In Act 2 we wonder has he in fact changed, has he learned from his appalling suffering?!
Hayden Maher as Lord Alfred Douglas is spiteful and petulant, arrogant and self centred. All he cares about is revenge on his father, the odious Lord Queensbury.
Maher captures his character’s charm and stored venom, his sudden unexpected changes from one moment to another, though at times he is a little stilted.
Both actors strive to match each other in this tale of fractured love and relish Hare’s brilliant dialogue.
As Robbie Ross, Wilde’s long time stalwart friend, very handsome Simon London gives a magnificent, finely nuanced,intense performance that is understated and disciplined.
The supporting cast are also excellent. Hannah Raven as Phoebe Cane outwardly is demure, like a tall dark thin drooping lily, but inside is filled with volcanic passion.
Luke Fewster as her fellow servant Arthur Wellesley was also splendid.
Robert Alexander as the maitre d’, Sandy Moffatt brings alive a sympathetic, honourable man with a great sense of decency. Alexander delivers a beautiful, moving speech about how Wilde being a true gentleman.
Then there is Galileo Masconi, played by David Soncin, a fisherman friend, who only speaks Italian, and is mostly naked for all his appearances and has a bright, sunny nature.
Running time 2 hours and 30 minutes including one interval. Be advised that the production includes full frontal nudity.
Highly recommended, THE JUDAS KISS is playing at the Old Fitzroy theatre until March 11.