DAVID Hare’s play “The Judas Kiss” delves into the relationships behind the trial of Oscar Wilde, in a moving and suspenseful Canberra debut for Mockingbird Theatre.
In 1895 Oscar Wilde (Chris Baldock) is in the flower of success, but on the cusp of ruin with a pending arrest for Gross Indecency.
Wilde’s devoted former lover Robert Ross (Patrick Galen-Mules) arranges flight from England, but Wilde hesitates over his love for the beautiful but awful Bosie, Lord Alfred Douglas (Liam Jackson).
Robert and Bosie are the angel and devil on Wilde’s shoulders, with one counselling freedom and the other enticing Wilde to ruin. But it is credit to director Karina Hudson that both companions feel rounded and human, with the nuances in the play’s complex relationships sensitively realised.
While we see Bosie’s selfishness and deluded arrogance, we also see his genuine love for Oscar, and the moments of genuine tenderness they share elevate the story over a mere tale of tragic obsession.
Baldock is zestful as Wilde, delivering the expected bon mots but humanising the famous wit by showing us Wilde’s longing and vulnerability.
The first act is thrilling, with the characters snatching at a chance to change fate. The second act feels more like waiting for the inevitable, rather than a last grasp at salvation.
Costumes needed more attention, with the dandies implausibly frocked out in clothes that were in some places ill-fitting and noticeably crumpled.
Knowing the history the story is based on will deepen your appreciation of Hare’s brilliant play, but is not essential for enjoying a riveting and engrossing drama that brings Oscar Wilde fully to life.