Theatre: Kindly leave the theatre
Oscar Wilde was indeed a literary great and cruelly treated. But let's give the story a rest, eh?
Wednesday 21 July 1999
There have been more centenary productions of his comedies than you could shake a green carnation at, which is fine by me, but can we please leave it at that? Is there anyone remotely interested in theatre or sexual politics (and please note the not altogether surprising crossover between the two) who doesn't now know everything from the broadest outline to the most arcane and irrelevant fancy concerning Wilde's tribulations and trials - in every sense?
And before anyone gets all defensive and starts moaning about jaded, jaundiced theatre critics, I should point out that I'm clearly not the only one who's had it up to the back teeth with it all. Gross Indecency - the recent cut'n'paste job of the Wilde court cases - came and went with, well, indecent haste despite respectable reviews.
Even perfectly reasonable chaps like Tom Stoppard and David Hare spotted Wilde anniversaries and popped the playwright on stage. Michael Fitzgerald turned up as Oscar about 15 minutes before the end of The Invention of Love in order to tell AE Housman a couple of things that had been bothering Stoppard, while six foot four inch Liam Neeson spent a lot of time bending down to make lip contact with Tom Hollander, the Bosie in Hare's The Judas Kiss. And while I have nothing against either playwright, the almost total absence of homosexuals in their previous works does cast their espousal of Wilde in an odd light. (And I know that Hare created a gay vicar in his masterpiece Racing Demon but that merely proves both the rule and my point.)
Of course, not every attempt has been footling or fruitless. When Stephen Fry gambolled about with Jude Law in the film Wilde, we finally understood what had previously been so utterly baffling: why did Wilde stick with so feckless and reckless a man? Because he was so impossibly beautiful, that's why.
Writers including Thomas Kilroy and Terry Eagleton threw their hats into the ring with, admittedly, interesting results but, and I'm sorry to be stern here, subject matter alone doth not good theatre make. I allude to those benighted individuals who mistake owning a word-processor for being a writer. The prize, however, goes to Wilde About Oscar, whose astonishing press release boasted a series of pertionent coincidences. Firstly, its author and leading actor lived in a road called Magdalen, in common with Oscar and Bosie who went to Magdalen College. Better still, when said individual was six, he underwent an ear operation to avoid meningitis... the very thing that killed Wilde. Enough already.
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