Sunday, August 14, 2016

Wilde Without the Boy (Assembly Hall, Edinburgh Fringe)

On Tuesday, May 18th, 1897, the once celebrated, now disgraced socialite and playwright Oscar Wilde was released from prison after a two-year incarceration for gross indecency. Between January and March that year, Wilde had been permitted by the prison governor to write a letter to his erstwhile lover, Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), in an attempt at both catharsis and rehabilitation.

The fact he was only allowed to write it one page at a time, with each page being taken away on completion, meant Wilde was unable to read his 20-page manuscript as a whole. Neither was he allowed to actually send the letter to its intended recipient, but Wilde did get to take it away with him on his day of release from prison, which is the day Cahoots Theatre Company's Wilde Without the Boy takes place.

Wilde, played with immaculate precision, dexterity, poise and passion by the Olivier-nominated Gerard Logan, reviews his work while he awaits his release. He addresses the audience as he reads aloud what has since become known as De Profundis, and the audience becomes its recipient, sitting in silence, reflecting Bosie's refusal to connect with Wilde during his imprisonment.

You don't need to have read De Profundis, or have a working knowledge of Wilde's trial or predicament, to follow the play. Logan worked closely with writer/ director Gareth Armstrong to construct an hour-long piece which contextualises Wilde's references, as well as edits extraneous or repetitious sections. What remains is an intoxicating study of a man tortured by what he sees are his own failings and weaknesses, a man still ridiculously in love with another, 16 years his junior. The heartache and tragedy of the content of the letter, of what happened to Wilde in court and in prison, and what punishments he visited upon himself in parallel with those of a hard labour sentence, is brought out sensitively and delicately by the adaptation.

Logan is astounding. It's a given that anybody who is playing an historical character in a one-man show should embody the subject for there to be any degree of success, but in this, Logan simply is Wilde. He possesses his spirit, every plea and woe etched on his face, and all the more obvious when witnessed at close quarters in an intimate venue such as the Assembly Hall's Baillie Room. The original De Profundis numbered some 50,000 words. Even in abridged form, that's one heck of a text to memorise, and Logan performs it flawlessly.

There's some adept lighting, and a simple and functional set, but the real star is Gerard Logan, who takes an already strong script and flies it to the stars. Oscar would affectionately approve.

The stats
Writer and director: Gareth Armstrong
Performer: Gerard Logan
Performed in the Baillie Room, Assembly Hall, Edinburgh, August 4th to 29th, 2016. Performance reviewed: August 14th, 2016

Gerard Logan's website (retrieved Aug 14 2016)
Gareth Armstrong's website (retrieved Aug 14 2016)
Nick Raikes interviews Gerard Logan about Wilde and his work (retrieved Aug 14 2016)

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