Brighton Fringe 2013
A cleverly conceived and well-acted two-header.
Venue: The Old Courtroom
A week before his own “Trial of the Century”—that would eventually see him jailed for sodomy and gross indecency—Oscar Wilde visited society palmist, Mrs Robinson, seeking advice. This play is a fictional reconstruction of that hour-long conversation.
The play takes place on the night of the 24th March 1895, and wears it’s metafiction on it’s sleeve with Mrs. Robinson (Suzanne Procter) directly addressing the audience, announcing that both she and Wilde are very obviously dead and that, “Only the dead reveal all their secrets”. She continues to narrate the entire play, and even when Wilde (Nigel Fairs) eventually appears on stage, she holds the play, creating a tension as to whether Wilde will, in fact, speak at all.
Neil Bartlett knows his Wilde, yet his script is unsentimental and tight. As you would expect, the play is peppered with Wildean witticisms—"The truth is rarely pure and never simple"—but these are appropriately downplayed. This is not the Oscar Wilde of sharp retorts and snappy put downs in some fashionable society salon, but rather, a man seeing his whole world collapsing in front of him. Fortunately, Fairs takes an almost straight approach to the Irish author, as the flouncy caricature he could have so easily slipped into would have undermined the emotional intensity of the piece. Even at his most histrionic, there’s a genuine empathy for a man torn apart between the love of his family and his love for “Bosie” (Lord Alfred Douglas).
There was excellent connectivity with the audience as the cast spoke, for the most part, directly to the crowd, particularly when Mrs. Robinson starts to “cold read” the audience, making them squirm with complicity.
Procter’s Robinson cleverly asserts her abilities and self-belief in “the craft” of palmistry. Yet, by the end of the play, she is filled with doubt regarding her actions, almost pleading with the audience for some sort of absolution—and the assertions echo hollowly. Had she given the correct advice? Or merely lied, knowing it was already hopeless for the playwright?
Kean Productions’ play is on tour after first being performed at the National Theatre and both Fairs and Procter are obviously accomplished actors, who gave strong, confident, and genuinely moving performances.