To the Hampstead Theatre as guest of Mr and Mrs Hall for the press night of The Judas Kiss: the first revival of a David Hare play produced in the 90s to distinctly tepid reviews. The play concerns Oscar Wilde’s fight or flight dark night of the soul evening at the Cadogan Hotel. Wilde is given the opportunity to flee the country rather than face prosecution for gross indecency with various renters in London hotels such as the Cadogan and the Savoy.
Wilde’s fall was precipitated by his lover Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas’s father the mad Marquess of Queenbury publicly accusing the playwright of ‘posing as a somdomite (sic)’. The Marquess was clearly a sadistic, mad monster and was alleged to have driven his first born son to suicide by accusing him of being the Ganymede to Lord Roseberry’s Zeus. There was no doubt that Wilde and Bosie were lovers and no shortage of witnesses to their many debauches in staterooms of London hotels. For Wilde not to flee at the urging of his first lover Robbie Ross would almost inevitably lead to his arrest and conviction for sodomy.
The Judas Kiss begins with a pert pair of breasts writhing in a hotel bedroom with a peachy young bellboy. Not something one expects from a play about ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ but a terribly amusing opening as t’were. Rupert Everett plays Wilde and has let his usually buff body go to get into the part. Bosie is played by Freddie Fox; son of the acting dynasty and brother of the divine Emilia who I styled a couple of times for Elle magazine and interviewed many moons ago.
There is much gratuitous nudity (very welcome) and much shouting and blustering (less so) and Fox does an excellent job in refusing to offer the role of Bosie any redeeming features. He was clearly dreadful man and boy and quite possibly touched by insanity. The Artist recalls seeing a letter in the Sitwell Archives relating how Bosie wrote to Wilde’s friend Ada Levinson despairing that Oscar refused to answer the many letters he sent to his former lover in Reading Gaol.
Not bloody surprising. If Wilde had heeded Robbie Ross and fled, he would have been spared disgrace and the two years’ hard labour that destroyed his health and his creativity. But for reasons of his own – never quite explained by Hare – he remains to face the music and dance. Not that Mr Everett danced as such. He spends the lion’s share of his performance sitting in a semi-recumbent posture (as Lady Bracknell would have it) staring bewildered into space. There isn’t a trace of an Irish accent in his performance and an absence of wit in the first half. But it did not lack intensity.
The second act discovers Oscar sitting on a chair centre stage while Bosie and a fisherman called Gallileo are hard at it on a single bed. Gallileo has to perform naked for about half an hour; Mrs Hall saying this got the casting director into terrible trouble when putting the boys through their paces during the auditions stage. Everett visibly perks up as exiled Oscar in a shabby Naples townhouse and at times one thought he was channelling his brilliant performance as Miss Fritton in the St Trinians films.
The play ends with Bosie giving Wilde the Judas Kiss and declaring his homosexuality was just a phase. Why Wilde destroyed himself for this callow, vicious and vain youth remained an enigma as I suspect it always will be: not so much the love that dare not speak its name as the love that doesn’t actually know its name. The after party was starry: came, Sir Peter Hall, Ann Mitchell (who will forever have a place in my heart as Dolly ‘I’ll do ten for you’ Rawlings), Greta Scaachi, Francesca Annis, Stephen Fry and many who one knows the face but can’t put the name to. We didn’t stay long because of the old migraines.
The following day was a treat. Brett invited Issy, the Artist and I to lunch at the Savoy to discuss various projects including Issy performing in the Beaufort Bar, the Artist curating a Noël & Gertie exhibition in the Savoy Museum and I writing the Savoy book. A good time was had by all. The Savoy Thames Foyer has been greatly enhanced of late by a vast landscape of The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee River Pageant commissioned by the hotel and painted from the rooftop of the Savoy. It is so nice to be back where I belong, as Dolly Levi sang.
I’m sending you a snapshot of a bronze of Noël Coward overlooking the view from his Jamaican villa Firefly where he is buried. It was sent to me by Sir Cameron Mackintosh’s archivist the divine Rosy Runciman who recently flew out to Firefly to catalogue and make-up an inventory of Coward’s estate. What a delightful place to spend one’s eternal rest. The second is of the Fantastic Mr Fox at his Bozielicious best in The Judas Kiss last night. The final snap was taken before the Savoy opened when Mrs T and I were decorating the Signature Suites. It was a rare moment of relaxation and reminded me of the number of times the Savoy is mentioned in Oscar Wilde’s trial transcripts. Fancy that!