Right of Reply: Merlin Holland
Friday 23 July 1999
TO SEE Oscar Wilde on trial in the newspapers ("Kindly leave the stage", 21 July) always gives me the same frisson of excitement it must have given him when he appeared at the Old Bailey back in 1895. On the whole he gets a fairly good press and, apart from a homophobic rant or two, the occasional voice raised in dissent keeps lively debate going about his status in the canon of English literature.
David Benedict puts an eloquent case for giving our stage a rest from the sorry tale of Oscar's meteoric rise and martyrdom - looking at the yard and a bit of shelf space which I have grudgingly committed to scripts about it over the last 20 years, he can be grateful that most of those never made it onto the boards. But it is not fair to dismiss with a yawn and the stamp of deja vu all the recent attempts to bring Oscar to life, and to veto any more.
Gross Indecency was an astounding success in the United States because the Americans were unfamiliar with what they saw as a deeply moving piece of injustice. Over here, the details of his trials have been rammed down our throats ad nauseam, so when it opened in the West End we stayed away in droves and it flopped. The story alone, peppered with crashingly familiar epigrams, is no longer enough.
The Judas Kiss, on the other hand, was mostly David Hare thinking his way into Wilde's mind at two critical points in his life and, in absence of the facts, conjecturing what might have happened. It avoided the well- beaten path; it was a novel approach; and it wasn't the Oscar everyone thought they knew. So if we keep off the realism and trust our imagination, as Oscar suggested in "The Decay of Lying" 110 years ago, I think his story still has a few years of life in it yet.
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