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Edinburgh Fringe 2022

A Wilde Life

Chevron Theatre

Genre: Historical, Musical Theatre, New Writing

Venue: The Space on the Mile - Space 3


Low Down

A musical celebration of the ineffable Oscar Wilde. Accompanied by a lush jazz score, A Wilde Life is a sultry, witty and powerful retelling of his trials, tribulations and notorious love affairs as the first Victorian celebrity.


“A Wilde Life” is a new musical from Chevron Theatre, students from the University of Leeds who really should have their name on their flyer.  They are an emerging company of young, enthusiastic performers that it is impossible not to like. And they should want to be remembered.  Their subject matter is cleverly chosen – much as “Six” used the 6 wives of Henry VIII, known to and beloved of all generations across all demographics, so does the vehicle of Oscar Wilde appeal to a broad audience.  Clever.

Not so clever was the online programme – fabulous idea in theory, but not so great in execution as the font and colours make it all but illegible to anyone without 20/20 vision (it gave me a headache).  Fortunately the large display board at the venue held the important information for those interested.  This might seem a trivial issue but this is a company who are trying very hard to do things properly and they are to be applauded for it.  They went to the trouble of including the pronouns of their cast and creatives in the programme and they employ gender blind casting (big tick for all of that!).  So it was a shame that they didn’t go that one step further to think beyond gender and be more inclusive in terms of acknowledging age and ability demographics too.

As for the show itself, the premise is good:  Oscar Wilde is in Paris looking back over his life; he is in a rough bar and recreates scenes from his past life by using the other drinkers, ladies of the night and bar staff to portray the key players of his story.  This device has been used before, notably in “The Man of La Mancha”; it works best when the “real life” characters look and sound completely different from those of the imagination.  Performance-wise, the good folks of Chevron hit the mark on this every time, with prostitutes playing Wilde’s wife and children, a dissolute drinker playing the Marquess of Queensberry (a special mention here for Milly Fern Parker who was the very embodiment of the Victorian definition of “burlesque”) and a distinctly dodgy barman playing “Bosie”.  Oscar, of course played himself; he was definitely the star of his own show.

The piece looked lovely.  Too lovely.  When Wilde was in Paris it was at the end of his life; he was a broken man, sick and destitute, abandoned by most of his friends and living in a grubby hotel. The bars he frequented would have been filled with similar types.  Jake Glantz looked perfect as Wilde but wasn’t given the opportunity to show the journey from dashing, witty raconteur to the shell of a man he’d become because he looked and acted exactly like a louche matinee idol of the 1920’s throughout the piece.  I wanted to see him transform from down and out into something beautiful and compelling, but he was already beautifully turned out (apart from the brown shoes – attention to detail from wardrobe makes such a difference).  He had nowhere to go, and he underplayed the role, concentrating more on “real” than “remembered” Oscar.  There was none of the flamboyance we’d expect from the scenes set in the past, and as such our leading man was often overshadowed by the other actors.  And as for those other actors, with the exception of Zak Muggleton’s ill fitting trousers and scuffed shoes, which made the transformation into Lord Alfred Douglas all the more effective, the entire cast were perfectly coiffured, pressed and polished; it was all way too clean, neat and tidy and left the talented cast pushing uphill to make the imaginary upper class characters different from the rabble they started out as. After all, it was Oscar Wilde who said “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.  Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”.

Musically the show is very impressive.  Alex Boulton and Mia Ruby have delivered a varied and interesting score  – the tango was particularly fun  – and the live piano gave a real authenticity to the piece.  The script, written by co-directors Andie Curno and George Marlin, although a little formulaic (and it’s different to be anything else when writing a fringe piece that needs to come in at under an hour) works well and is a proper ensemble piece. The doubling is effective and in places funny.  In fact there were a lot of laughs in this production. The quality of the singing was uniformly good and the staging was, in the main, nicely done, with the dancing adding a little frisson to the production.  Not having every big song performed straight on centre stage would have been more interesting and less predictable but, again, constraints of the fringe environment must be taken into account.

The show has huge potential. It would be very interesting to see A Wilde Life continue its life beyond the Fringe.  And if there’s a bar or restaurant looking for a site-specific piece of immersive entertainment, they really should look no further.