Fringe Online 2021
Directed by Gareth Armstrong and Music Directed by Simon Slater for JST’s Footprints Festival. Designed by Louie Whitmore. Lighting by Johanna Town’s simple. Camera work from several angles (Director Mark Swadel, Operator Balazs Weidner), including seventy-five degrees overhead, are deftly sequenced. To July 3rd . Filmed and may be later available as stream.
We’ve been here. Often. There’s a blue column of light, an echo chamber of hell – certainly tenebrous gloom. In it, Wilde listens as a voice recording tell him he’s first condemned, then in a blink free to go, his manuscripts returned to him. Though it’s in between those time zones we’ll dwell. Blueish, even violet light diffuses, but it’s cold: full day’s never coming here.
It’s May 1897; Wilde’s served the full two years of his sentence. No remittance for good behaviour. Nor for having written his two last, decidedly non-dramatic masterpieces. There’s a period table and chair, storm lamp and a couple of manuscripts.
Gerard Logan’s Wilde Without the Boy touches on that recriminatory opening of De Profundis destined for Bosie but released instead to the world after Wilde’s death. It’s this text Logan initially delivers, only occasionally illustrated with recorded voices from trial transcripts, like Edward Parker’s witness; bolstering Wilde’s own prosecution of Bosie.
With a voice calibrated to precisely-imagined intonation Logan delivers it like another sentence, on himself and on Bosie, with mostly judicial deliberation. Every syllable and consonant’s lightly iterated, as you’d expect of a man removing a comma from his tongue and putting it back.
Initially in a black jacket, later donning a light one, we trace what should be a sartorial emergence out of the depths. Later in a freer climate, Logan in fact plunges with a different Wilde into a sun-blinded hanging.
Logan, smiling and at times deadly in his philippic, delivers a Bosietude. Rising with emotion at climactic encounters and other voices – interrupted by that disembodied voice – Logan reprises the finnicky Oxonian of a don sending down a dissolute undergraduate. Indeed his tutor Walter Pater’s phrasing seems to get into the skin of this Wilde, and it’s exactly right. Inhabiting flickers of others’ voices, Logan also lurches into an ironic Dublin re-Wilding of religion. Emotion though keeps snarling that pristine arc. Reliving story gets in the way of narrative.
Logan proleptically elides slivers of Wilde’s last great work, as if during the articulation of De Profundis another work’s erupting. So The Ballad of Reading Gaol breaks out in an explosion of grief and remembered fear and pity. And that letter. That sonnet. We’re drawn inexorably back to the PTSD of that trail. And how Wilde would hate acronyms. Still, every day he wept the same time as the moment on November 13th 1895 he was transferred to Reading, on Clapham Junction station in chains to be laughed at, even more so when people knew who he was.
Then there’s the death of his mother before whom he’s inarticulate. Next year, 1898, his wife’s death and the intolerable Marquess of Queensbury’s might have excited strangely opposite feelings, but that’s outside the span here.
Wilde moves to contemplating fellow-prisoners: kindness from staff and those who feel he’s got it harder than them: he shouldn’t be here. ‘They talk not of being in prison but of one in trouble’ he wonders. Like Wordsworth before him, with greater abjection, he can say ‘a deep distress hath humanised my soul.’ We’re thrust into lyrical memory.
Pleasure and joy are what Wilde thought he was offering Bosie, but it’s a calvary.
Directed by Gareth Armstrong with music directed by Simon Slater for JST’s Footprints Festival, it’s designed by Louie Whitmore. Lighting by Johanna Town a occasionally suggests a warm study; more often chill blues, violets, hopeless dawns. On occasion there’s shadows of prison bars too.
The second act seems to prelude a more valedictory pace. It’s lit with Italianate sunshine, tablecloth topped with carafe, glass, a yellow rose; a now beige linen jacket from a summer suit slung over the chair. You’d think we’re in that day Bosie might show up. Life’s beginning over.
No. Wilde’s drawn back into his great prison ballad; a recitation, recollected in bitter sun, arising from both prison witness and as we‘ve just seen, personal betrayal. It’s not just Logan’s inflections, breaking into song; slowings, bursts of anguish, anger, quivering pain. Circling, occasionally sitting, Logan reminds us Wilde fights back even here, at the heart of the next literary generation, though Kipling’s tales and verses had begun precociously alongside the late-developing Wilde. Kipling’s soldiers’ ballads are here transformed to hanging a soldier for killing the woman he loved. Kipling’s 1890 ‘Danny Deever’ is taken to a transcendental exequy.
Slater’s soundscape invokes liminal eeriness, faint rasps and choric effects. There’s a piano like an Irish harp, which with a violin occasionally plays out with a chamber elegance; a theatre of cruelty and redemption undercuts them in Logan’s devastating palate. With a brief interval this 114-minute traversal is the most authoritative – solely in Wilde’s words, and perhaps otherwise – I’ve seen.
A jewel of inhabiting, Logan’s voice eschews those easy grandeurs assumed as Wilde’s, for something more convincing: the Magdalen aesthete, staring into the abyss of one of his commas.