Stage review: The Judas Kiss, Duke of York's

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STAGE
The Judas Kiss
Duke of York's
★★★★★

IN A NUTSHELL
Rupert Everett is on blistering form in David Hare's witty and perceptive examination of the woes of Oscar Wilde.

REVIEW
For most of this absorbing masterwork, Rupert Everett's Oscar Wilde is seated. Or, more likely, slumped, deflated, a sack of clothes beneath a blubbery face.

He was not an old man during the course of the play's events - pre-arrest, post-jail - but he has an old man's physique, gait and prospects.

Should he take a deep breath and bellow away the gloom all would be well, it seems. But he sips just enough oxygen (and brandy) to fuel his brain and his quips and nothing more.

This gauche and tottering clown is in deliberate contrast to his fiendish and fierce young lover, Alfred Douglas, who is the very essence of youth - energetic, arrogant, petulant, cruel, passionate and, usually, plotting.

How much Bosie knows of himself - that his precocious power plays are merely childish goads to his family - is difficult to tell. But perhaps it is his vitality in conflict that leaves jaded Wilde enraptured, against all advice.

That advice comes from staunch friend Robert Ross (Cal MacAninch) who believes Wilde must distance himself from the young man to restore his fortunes.

Instead, says David Hare through an enthralling and clever script, it is for the preservation of his credo, for art and beauty, that Wilde chooses to float, impotently, towards ignominy.

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For beauty encapsulated by Bosie, of course. And, for art, also, because he recognises that he is caught up in a narrative and his story demands a fittingly tragic end.

Everett is simply enormous as Wilde. Physically, yes, but psychologically too.

Forget the idle bon mots that trip from both actor and acted, this Wilde is infuriating, rigorous and mournful (but never sentimental). Everett marries the stoic curmudgeon to the rich prancing wit and hides all behind a haunted mask.

Freddie Fox finds enough in Bosie to make his patter convincing, to himself at least.

He exudes great presence and expends great energy to appear sincere and it is not inconceivable that this preening sulk would entrance the outsider Wilde.

The staging in Neil Armfield's production is ungainly and the nudity distracting but we are left, thankfully, with the retina scar of Everett's epic stillness - capturing a man broken but never quite defeated.

Until April 6, go to judaskiss.co.uk.

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