Directed by Iain Sinclair
Old Fitz Theatre
Old Fitzroy Hotel
129 Dowling Street, Woolloomooloo
Season: 15 February – 11 March
David Hare's play The Judas Kiss details the social stigma and criminalisation that envelops famous writer Oscar Wilde's relations with other men. The first act takes place in a hotel room as Wilde awaits being taken away by police for continued criminal trial. He is surrounded by the flurry of hotel staff and by the visitation of his friends and lovers. The second act takes place in exile, where Wilde has escaped to and is accompanied by his lover Bosie - as well as other male visitors for short romantic escapades.
Iain Sinclair's production unfolds in a prolonged state of waiting - linked to Oscar Wilde's preoccupation with action, or rather, inaction, and fate. Whilst this is an interesting setting for a play like this, pinpointing particular moments in Wilde's life, it also requires a significant evocation of the stakes of the circumstances by the actors. This, I thought, wasn't always upheld. Being a very long play, lasting 2 hours and 45 minutes (including interval) at the performance that I saw, a tough task lies ahead for the actors to create and maintain the critical stakes of the piece when they are essentially waiting in a living room. I felt that Simon London did achieve this well, as well as exploring a complex character narrative in his relationship with Oscar. He gives a compelling performance that catches the eye.
I found fascinating the contradictions and fatalism abundant in Wilde's life outlook, expressed keenly by Josh Quong Tart. His swimming kindness and generosity in the midst of his own desperate situation spoke volumes to his personal character, for better or worse for his later living situation. Furthermore, his resignation to his fate rattles you to the core in a situation of such bitter injustice. Sinclair's work shines when it dips its toe in comedy, brought to light wonderfully by hotel staff Hannah Raven and Luke Fewster. There's something about nudity that can be rather funny that David Soncin embraces in his performance, speaking only Italian and milling about totally naked for the large part of the second act.
Jonathan Hindmarsh’s set design is striking and transports the audience to a new time and place, evoking feelings of startling claustrophobia in the first act and vast futility in the second. He captures the emotion in Sinclair’s production brilliantly in a visual sense. Hindmarsh proves yet again his deft ability to create wonderfully unique settings within the Fitz performance space, creating something we haven’t seen before time and time again.
Sinclair’s production has the key ingredients for a fantastic piece of theatre, including some very strong performances, a big heart, and great sense of humour, however I wanted the work to up the stakes to really grab my attention and not let go. In light of the Mardi Gras season, I think it’s important to take heed of the crushing history of treatment of LGBTQ people, through cruel social exclusion and criminalisation, all in the name of societal fear. We continue to see similar attitudes today in Trump’s recent refusal to allow trans men and women to use the bathroom that best suits their gender. Hate and fear-mongering continues to run rife, and in light of this, Sinclair’s production speaks with urgency and utter relevance.