17 September 2012

The Judas Kiss - Hampstead Theatre - Monday 10th September 2012

Oscar Wilde’s dangerous philosophy leads him on a path to destruction. The Judas Kiss describes two pivotal moments on that path: the day Wilde decides to stay in England and face imprisonment, and the night, after his release two years later, when the lover for whom he risked everything betrays him.
Moffat - Alistair Cameron
Galileo – Tom Colley
Oscar Wilde – Rupert Everett
Bosie – Freddie Fox
Arthur – Ben Hardy
Robbie Ross – Cal Macaninch
Phoebe – Kirsty Oswald

Creative Team:
Director - Neil Armfeld
Writer - David Hare
Designer - Dale Ferguson
Costume Designer - Sue Blane
Lighting Designer - Rick Fisher
Composer - Alan John
Sound Designer - Paul Groothuis
Casting - Cara Beckinsale

Don’t take Grannie to see this. There’s more tits, arse and cock than I think I have ever seen on stage since I began this blog. Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with tits, arse and cock, and I imagine that Rupert Everett is very appreciative of the fact that he is getting paid while looking at it all. For the entire second act, he has nothing to do except sit in a chair centre stage and watch arse and cock all night (oh, and come up with quite a few lines, as well). And if you like your plays complete with tits, arse and cock, you will have a wonderful evening. But don’t take Grannie, OK?

I’m going to start with the performance of one of the minor characters When your sole function in a play is to look good with your kit off, make a bed and lay a table,, you should at least learn how to make a bed and lay a table properly. Ben Hardy looks great with his kit off, but when you watch him make the bed after shagging the Chambermaid (OK, he is wearing distractingly tight trousers and has a gorgeous backside so you might miss the actual process of bedmaking), you can see that he has never studied how to make a bed. An Edwardian bed, with a bolster, pillows, sheets, blanket and counterpane. In this age of duvets, bed making is very much a dying art, but Hardy’s bed looks like a dog’s dinner by the time he has finished with it. It is probably a minor quibble (although I do quite like minor quibbles) but in the Cadogan Hotel, in which Act 1 is set, a manservant would not make the bed anyway. It would be done by a chambermaid. Kirsty Oswald is so underused as Phoebe the Chambermaid that I wonder why the Director couldn’t have got her to do it. In fact, one of the backstage staff could have come on in a chambermaid costume and the two of them could have made the bed. Properly. Said manservant then proceeds to place a large, heavy trunk ON the bed – which again would have been unthinkable. I’ve seen enough episodes of Downton Abbey to know that an Edwardian suitcase goes on one of those fold out springy table things with webbing instead of a tabletop, which you carry in, unfold, put at the end of the bed and put the case on it. You don’t put the case on the bed, for petes sake. Particularly if you have just made the bed.

Neither, unfortunately, can Hardy lay a table in the correct way. He makes such a dog’s dinner of it that any well brought up dog would probably refuse to eat its dinner off said table. You don’t put the spoon ABOVE the plate, you put it to the RIGHT of the plate, with the knife further out with the blade facing TOWARDS the plate and the fork on the left. And then you put the wine glass to the RIGHT of the knife, in line with the tip. And you put the vase of flowers on the table LAST, not FIRST. Honestly, has Neil Armfield never watched Downton Abbey? Apart from that, I didn’t notice much of Hardy’s performance as Arthur because I was too distracted by his arse in those trousers. He can come and turn down my top sheet any time, and afterwards I will teach him how to make the bed and where to put a suitcase and how to lay a table. If there is sufficient time before Him Indoors gets home.

It cannot be denied that Everett makes a fine Wilde. I was thankful that Hare avoided the trap of having him speak in endless aphorisms. Unfortunately this cannot be said for act 2, when the bon mots come thick and fast, (probably the best is (in describing an incredibly buff Italian fisherman ) “All the native arrogance of his race and a cock like a length of rope dipped in tar”, and the script loses all its urgency Having Everett confined to a chair centre stage for the entire act does focus your mind on the fact that there is an awful lot of verbiage. I noticed with great amusement that it seemed to be Everett’s eyes that followed Tom Colley’s (again very fine) naked arse across the stage rather than Wilde’s.

Freddie Fox does an excellent job with an extremely unsympathetic character. “Bosie” seems to have been so shallow that he made a puddle look deep and a petulant little queen to boot, and Fox captures this so well that it was as much as I could do from stomping onto the stage and giving him a damn good smack in the face. Cal Macaninch was very good as Robbie Ross (although I would raise the point that the actual Ross had a moustache whereas Macaninch’s Ross doesn’t. It was annoying to see him appear in Act 2 in the same costume he had worn in Act 1 – an Edwardian gentleman would NOT travel down to Naples wearing full morning dress.

Dale Ferguson’s set makes The Cadogan Hotel seem dark and claustrophobic, and having an enormous drape forming the canopy of the bed and then cascading down to cover all the rest of the furniture and the floor struck me as a) practical in that it did away with the need for period furnishings and b) daft because it obviously makes the stage incredibly slippery and, when you are hopping about on one leg trying to get your trousers back on after being caught fucking the chambermaid, quite dangerous. I imagine that the haberdasher from whom this enormous length of cloth was purchased had an attack of the vapours when it was ordered (“Doreen, gentleman from the Hampstead Theatre wants to buy 40 yards of the dark brown sateen with the paisley pattern. And quite a lot of that stuff you put under rugs to stop them from creeping”) and then smiled slowly and went online looking for villas in Tuscany when they realised how much the invoice was going to be. The second act, the Neapolitan house is, by contrast, basically white walls, a few odds and ends of battered furniture, a lot of carefully directed lighting and an awful lot of cock and arse.

This is what I would call a wordy, worthy play. It’s quite long and full of speechifying. Not much happens. I think I dropped off for a couple of minutes (it had been a busy week) and I can honestly say I don’t think I missed anything of import. I do wonder why David Hare wrote it. It tells us nothing new that we didn’t already know about Wilde. Its very, very wordy. And the entire point of the play comes in the last 20 seconds and you could save yourself a good two hours just by popping in at the end for the last line. Hare’s point, delivered through the mouthpiece of Wilde, is the irony that Christ was betrayed by Judas, the disciple he knew and cared about the least. To make a better story, says Hare/Wilde, Christ should have been betrayed by John, the man he loved best. That, as far as I can see, is the sole message of this play. The stupid thing is, the play is called The Judas Kiss but Wilde is betrayed by the man he loves best. So it should rightly have been called John’s Kiss. So there. And don’t take Grannie.

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