Drawing parallels between Christ’s betrayal by Judas and Oscar Wilde’s lover Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas convincing him to stay in London to be arrested on charges of sodomy and gross indecency is audacious. But David Hare’s 1998 play never labours the analogy – here, a string of brilliant bon mots gilt some sharp edges.
Director Neil Armfield emphasises this by draping the Hampstead stage in sumptuous crushed velvet and then filling it with casual nudity, from randy hotel servants to an Italian fisherman. The gloves are off, along with everything else. The point is clear: sex is not the issue, society is.
Hare skilfully mixes Victorian class snobbery and anti-Irish prejudice into his exploration of the hypocrisy weighted onto Wilde’s shoulders, and presents a fascinating portrait of the battle-of-wills between ex-lovers Robbie Ross and Bosie over whether Wilde should flee to France or stay in London post-trial. Cal Macaninch’s Ross is agonised by unrequited love, while Freddie Fox is a revelation as Bosie: a beautiful, spoilt boy with daddy issues who sees himself as a victim even as he brings about Wilde’s downfall.
Initially, Rupert Everett’s Wilde seems flamboyantly familiar. But as the writer loses everything, we understand that this was deliberate. Replacing drolly-delivered quips with weary wisdom, Everett movingly reveals a Wilde for whom superficiality has been self-protection.
Some argued that casting was a weakness of the original West End production of ‘The Judas Kiss’. But it’s just one of many strengths in Armfield’s well-paced, funny and poignant production.
First published by Time Out