“Postcards from London”: Day Six of the CTC London Theatre Tour


THE JUDAS KISS, David Hare’s story of the downfall of Oscar Wilde is rich terrain for exploration at our TalkBack. As is our wont, we opened with an examination of the physical setting — to find clues from the design team about the nature of the event we were to see. The setting for the first act is a hotel room in the Cadogan Hotel, on the day that Wilde’s libel suit against the Marquess of Queensbury has collapsed.

Marlebone High Street

The set featured black walls — used theatrically to create a void with no edges; a very small window, reminiscent perhaps of a prison cell; no visible means of entrance or exit; and most strikingly, a huge floor to ceiling drapery in purple. The Greek word hubris, which we have come to understand as a the tragic flaw of pride, has its roots in the word for purple.

As purple dye was derived from sea anemones, it was a very expensive color to make — ceremonial purple carpets were laid that only the gods were to walk on. Our understanding of the word hubris comes from the day when a human dared to walk on the purple carpet. Clearly, the design team would like us to keep the issue of pride in our consciousness — to consider that perhaps Wilde wasn’t a passive victim of persecution but someone who chose his end out of pride.

Wilde went to great length to craft a persona, and he became the greatest celebrity in England at the end of the 19th century. Hare explores the way in which celebrities become trapped in the persona they’ve created. Wilde disastrously played The Wit at his trial, and was blind to the true nature of the event in which he was a player. This failure to play the appropriate role had immediate and disastrous consequences.

On the other hand, the authorities had no desire to put the most famous man in England in prison and Wilde was given the chance to escape to France. Wilde’s friends begged him to go, but he was unable or unwilling to to conceive that “Oscar Wilde” would abandon the cause, and so he played the martyr to Victorian bourgeois hypocrisy.

The setting for Act II is a hotel outside Naples. Unlike the dark, heavy furnishings of a British Victorian era hotel, this room is light and airy — a natural setting for the extended nude scene that opens the act. Act I also opened with a nude scene, but upon discovery, the maid and footman involved immediately scramble for their clothes. In Naples, Bosie his Italian lover lounges as if in some private Eden. But if the forces of hypocrisy have fallen away, so has Oscar’s stage. Particularly the one on which he plays the Contrarian — the Irish, socialist, wit. He has no audience and therefore, no function.

Paul Rothe and Son

Bankrupt, he must choose between being with Bosie and an allowance. In both scenes Hare has put Wilde on the horns of a dilemma. And, if one accepts that choice is at the heart of drama, then this is very solid dramaturgy. The joy of experiencing the play is trying to decipher Wilde’s motivations for the choices he made — was it Love, Honor, Pride, Obstinancy, Contrariness? Some cocktail of various of these ingredients? It reminds us that we are all ultimately a mystery to each other.

As we were closer to the end of tour than the beginning, many of us went in search of gifts or mementoes after the TalkBack. Some of us went north of Oxford Street to Marlebone High Street, to wander its panoply of small shops and boutiques. Daunt’s, the Edwardian era bookshop is always a highlight, as is La Fromagerie, one of the great cheese shops in the world. Paul Rothe’s, a very small cafe and purveyor of jams, jellies and preserves gives a delightful window into World War II era London. The Wallace Collection, with its palm-strewn atrium or Durrant’s, a 300 year old hotel family-run hotel with a number of cozy lounges, both provide an opportunity for a very British Tea. Somehow its always a shock to emerge from this intimately scaled neighborhood into the bustle of department store Oxford Street.

Friday night would take us to a non West End destination — the newly rebuilt Hampstead Theatre in the Swiss Cottage area of North London for the world premiere of LONGING, William Boyd’s adaptation of two Chekhov short stories, starring Tamsin Grieg and Iain Glen.