The Trials of Oscar Wilde

Merlin Holland and John O’Connor

John O’Connor

Georgian Theatre Royal, Richmond, North Yorkshire

On 11 October 2014

Review by Helen Brown

I feel quite excited to tell you that I met Oscar Wilde last night and, oh my, what a man he is! I couldn’t take my eyes off him. So aristocratic in his crisp double-breasted frock coat, a flounce of red silk arranged with such elegance around his neck.

An air of educated confidence tilts his chin ever so slightly upwards, giving him the kind of exemplary deportment of someone who really is someone—and he knows it. Even his hair and shoes were polished to within an inch of their lives—the hair parted defiantly down the middle, giving him a sort of girlish beauty. Even as he sat down he crossed his legs slowly with an exaggerated theatricality that was undeniably sexy.

Oh, and I should tell you, he didn’t walk, he sashayed—not in any effeminate way, you understand, just otherworldly and remarkable. I would normally dislike this sort of privileged arrogance, but I found myself quite attracted to him.

Okay, okay, it was a play, and of course I didn’t really meet him, it just feels like that. He was on stage not three feet from me, so close I’d like to think I could even smell his expensive cologne, which probably belonged to the lady next to me who’d been over-zealous with the Chanel.

I was a member of the jury, you see, at the two trials of Oscar Wilde. There I go again, letting my imagination run off with me! I was actually a member of the audience in the small intimate surroundings of my favourite little theatre, The Georgian Theatre Royal in Richmond.

John Gorick was Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde and he took his bow at the opening night of his play, The Importance of Being Ernest, using every bit of all of the above with extraordinary acting prowess and a great deal of purple aplomb.

Meanwhile we glimpse backstage as the grumpy Marquess of Queensberry arrives with a bouquet of rotten vegetables. He’s refused entry and stomps off to leave Wilde a note at his club, The Albemarle, addressed to ‘Oscar Wilde posing as somdomite (sic).‘

Wilde took the bait, the ‘booby trap‘ as Queensberry later called it, and with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie)’s encouragement, he decides to sue the Marquess for criminal libel.  The rest, you’d think, is history; but seeing the play on stage proves that what we thought we knew isn’t quite the reality.

As a fifteen-part three-hander, everyone on stage has their work cut out and all three actors are amazing. Rupert Mason gives us a masterclass of performances as Queensberry, Edward Carson, Wilde’s prosecution lawyer in the first libel trial, and Charles Gill, QC in the second criminal trial. He also gives us the maid, Jane Cotter, and a super Fred Atkins, a one time comedian and lower class liar who is brought to court to explain his relationship with Wilde.

William Kempsell makes up the acting trio with more excellent perormances as Sir Edward Clarke, leading Queensberry’s defence; Sidney Wright, William Allen and a rather amusing Antonio Migge.

I can’t praise this production enough and, although it did start in a rather underwhelming sort of way, it soon got going at a rollicking pace, adding tiny shots of amusement along the way. There are a couple of small details that I would add: a cigarette with holder and a green carnation for Wilde’s lapel.

Co-written by producer John O’Connor and Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland, a man who obviously appreciated his grandfather’s style and conviction and proving that little has changed whenever, fame, sex, pride and libel are shaken up into their intoxicating cocktail of human weakness.

The Trials of Oscar Wilde, deftly directed by Peter Craze, is due to transfer to the West End next week opening at Trafalgar Studios just in time for Wilde’s 160th birthday on Thursday October 16. Happy birthday, Oscar!