You know what? I’d hate to be involved with Rupert Everett in any way while he is playing Oscar Wilde on stage. Even if he asks nicely. The role and the actor are intertwined to such extent that makes it hard to distinguish where Rupert ends and where Oscar begins. The Judas Kiss, a play by David Hare, is as much about Everett and the “vanished years” of this handsome, intelligent, and incredibly likeable actor, as it is about the betrayal and illusion that clouded the last days of the genius that was Oscar Wilde. Deeply penetrating the role, Everett guides you through the worst period of Wilde’s life and his swift fall from grace. You suffer Wilde’s intense pain as this literary darling falls in love with Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas), “a human repellent who drives away all sorts of people.”
Duke of York Theatre, London’s West End
I first became immersed in the story while translating the Irish Peacock and Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde into Russian (shameless self-promotion: click here to see my name in Cyrillic print). The book contains the original transcript of the Wilde vs Queensberry trial that culminated the enthralling love affair between Oscar Wilde and Bosie. Bosie’s father, Marquess of Queensberry, accused Wilde of sodomy, a crime at the time, and Wilde lost his libel case and was sentenced to two years in Reading Gaol. The transcript was discovered and published by Oscar Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland.
As I transformed each word of the harsh English legalese into an equally utilitarian Russian, the book made me more and more enraged by the false morality of the late-Victorian society in its full homophobic glory. Now, the play makes me question the real heroes behind the story. How could a genius, a popular witty socialite, adored by his friends and fans, fall in love with this Lord Mediocre? This fake and pretentious Bosie, shallow as a puddle, a man with a vulgar sense of self-importance? Was Wilde, a romantic individualist, really unable to see that Bosie is nothing more than a pleasure-seeking and emotionally immature Uranian wannabe poet?
Rupert Everett as Oscar Wilde
Although who says you can love only those you find perfect? “Only when we love do we see the true person. The truth of a person is only visible through love. Love is not the illusion. Life is”, says Wilde. This planted a seed of hope that perhaps, Wilde was not blinded by love and rendered incapable of seeing the real mediocrity of Bosie. Then why in his parting line, Wilde tells Bosie that he will not be free until he asks for Wilde’s forgiveness? Isn’t it obvious that as long as Bosie keeps wallowing in his mediocrity, he will never be able to understand how Wilde sacrificed his life for him and, more importantly, why Wilde let Bosie treat his art and his heart as if they were disposable?
Pearls and swine. The swine that in the end denies his love and even his homosexuality. If real life is anything to go by, you know that one day Bosie will find his Mrs Mediocre and live with her happily ever after within the confines of their common blissful ignorance. Unaware of and undisturbed by the world of excitement, intense emotion, self-sacrifice, and raw talent. Well, to their health.
Pre-show: getting in the mood and experimenting with the bokeh