Review: The Judas Kiss

THE JUDAS KISS by David Hare (Hampstead Theatre/Mirvish). At the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria). Runs to May 1. $35-$119..

THE JUDAS KISS by David Hare (Hampstead Theatre/Mirvish). At the Ed Mirvish Theatre (244 Victoria). Runs to May 1. $35-$119. 416-872-1212. See listing. Rating: NNN

If youve ever wondered what the Irish wit Oscar Wilde looked and sounded like, Rupert Everett provides a convincing idea in The Judas Kiss, David Hares play set during the late Victorian writers tragic final years.

Everett, helped by director Neil Armfield and a terrific makeup and costume team, has got the authors height, stooped shoulders and wavy haircut just right. More importantly, he delivers those one-liners with complete self-absorption, smugly pronouncing each syllable for us to relish.

Its a shame the play isnt better.

Long, ponderous and uneventful, The Judas Kiss shows Wilde at two crucial points in his life. When the play opens its 1895, when the celebrated playwright is about to be arrested for gross indecency.

Wilde still has a chance to escape London and prison his passage to France is booked. But something his dignity? a masochistic streak? his love for his boytoy, Lord Alfred Douglas (Charlie Rowe), aka Bosie? holds him back.

Two years later, released from a hard-labour term in Reading Gaol, hes a shadow of his former self and holed up in a Neapolitan hovel with the blueblooded Bosie, whose vindictive father was at the centre of the court case to begin with. And hes about to find out who his betrayer is.

There are wonderful moments in the production, particularly those involving Wildes former lover and loyal friend Robert Ross (a clear, sympathetic Cal MacAninch), who fully grasps the severity of the situation. And I loved watching Wildes interactions with the servants in the first act, which give you a sense of his charm, his appetite for food, conversation and beautiful things.

But by failing to understand Wildes relationship with Bosie, who throughout seems shrill and petulant, the script disappoints. And despite the occasional flash of nudity, particularly in the second act, theres not much to look at on Dale Fergusons spare set.

But Everetts layered and deeply felt performance almost makes you forget all that.

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