Theatre: Wilde at heart

GROSS INDECENCY

GIELGUD THEATRE

LONDON

TO CAST Michael Pennington as Oscar Wilde would, on the grim face of it, seem about as sensible as hiring a cactus to pose as an overripe melon or engaging Stephen Fry to create a definitive Oliver Cromwell. Playing Wilde now at the Gielgud Theatre, Pennington does, indeed, often give the impression that here is a man who would have been happier penning and improving a Temperance tract than in composing The Picture of Dorian Gray.

What is heartening is how little this matters, for the arrangement of the material is so intelligent and compelling, and the Brechtian presentational style adopted is so apt and penetrating, that Gross Indecency: The Trials of Oscar Wilde triumphantly rises above the rather empty exhibition of acting skill at its centre.

A big hit in New York, this play by Moises Kaufman now arrives in London in a fluent, incisive production by its author. The present tense of this arresting drama may take a chronological journey through Wilde's successive courtroom ordeals from the disastrously rebounding libel suit against the Lord Queensberry to the final conviction. The excellence of the piece, though, lies in the way Kaufman opens it up with flashbacks and flashes- forward that produce telling juxtapositions and discordancies, and with running cultural commentaries from then and now. The event is like a cross between courtroom drama and a fascinating kinetic mosaic produced by some cultural studies department. Fractured and increasingly phantasmagoric,with the cast transformed into our contemporaries, the play has found the perfect form for encompassing Wilde in all his complex contradictoriness and tantalising capacity to anticipate modern preoccupations.

He is, for example, an ambiguous icon for the modern gay movement in that, at his trial, he flatly denied his homosexual activities. It's typical of Gross Indecency that it addresses this issue by including a spoof interview with a trendy academic who floats the interesting notion that ironically, but for this trial, there might not be a modern gay movement since it was the original, for good and bad, of people being defined and defining themselves by their sexuality and it fixed in the public mind a limiting definition of what a homosexual is. It's possible that, with his love of perverse, pointed paradox, Wilde would have thought the phrase "gay liberation" a contradiction in terms. It's the strength of Gross Indecency that it airs these nebulous problems of identity at the same time as pinning down the disgusting politics behind Wilde's suffering. The play movingly shows how he was used as a lightning conductor to deflect attention from a Liberal Government itself rife with what, in their cases, one might call the lust that dared not speak its name.

Superbly played, the unedifying line-up of male prostitutes who were paid by the Crown to give evidence against Wilde (bribes ironically more corrupting than any Oscar pressed on them) also double as jurymen, narrators, female whores and dignitaries such as George Bernard Shaw and Frank Harris. Occasionally, they remind you of Esther Rantzen's young male co-presenters on the late, unlamented That's Life. In fact, all this play lacks is a "funny" phallic vegetable.

Booking: 0171-494 5065. A version of this review appeared in later editions of yesterday's paper

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

music
Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
News
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

film
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment

film
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

    The secret CIA Starbucks

    The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
    Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

    How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

    The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
    One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

    One million Britons using food banks

    Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

    Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

    The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

    The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
    Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

    A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
    Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

    Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

    They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
    Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

    The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
    The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

    The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

    Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
    How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

    How to run a restaurant

    As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
    Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

    Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

    For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
    Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

    Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

    The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
    10 best tote bags

    Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

    We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
    Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

    Paul Scholes column

    I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

    The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...