“The Judas Kiss” at Hampstead Theatre

David Hare’s 1998 play, The Judas Kiss, takes two pivotal moments in Oscar Wilde’s relationship with Lord Alfred Douglas: his refusal to flee to the continent before his arrest for ‘gross indecency’ and the couple’s final split in Naples. The story makes terrific drama. Under the expert hands of renowned Australian director Neil Armfield, this well-known tale is used to explore the emotions and motivations behind a great love story.

It’s not often that a casting director gets a mention in a review but Cara Beckinsale deserves it. Rupert Everett as Wilde seems so obviously right that it’s strange he hasn’t taken on the part before. His physical transformation is remarkable – the resemblance uncanny – and his intelligent and magnetic performance swings from brilliant dazzler to private thinker, aware that he has been “cast in a role”.

Freddie Fox brings his cheekbones and youth to the role of Lord Alfred Douglas, but he doesn’t just look the part. This ‘Bosie’ goes beyond the spoilt child – Fox gives his selfishness a pathological edge. The Judas Kiss is really a three-hander, with the part played by Robbie Ross in Wilde’s life given the place it deserves. Dismissed by Douglas as “third party”, this integral figure is poignantly portrayed by Cal MacAninch.

Ross’s presence is just another example of what a well-crafted play The Judas Kiss is. Taking on big themes, as Wilde believed an artist should, and arguably sneaking in a few more – issue of rights, freedom and a “crisis of silence” – that make Wilde’s plight feel contemporary, Wilde becomes more than a gay martyr or quotable figure. In Hare’s hands he is made human. This give The Judas Kiss the passion needed for great theatre.

Until 13 October 2012

www.hampsteadtheatre.com

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Written 13 September 2012 for The London Magazine

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