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The Trials of Oscar Wilde

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Using transcripts of the libel and criminal trials which led to Oscar Wilde’s incarceration in 1895, the European Arts Company seeks to illuminate this lesser known aspect of the life of the “wittiest man who ever lived”.

In February 1895, weeks after the opening of The Importance of Being Earnest, Wilde took a libel action out against Lord Queensberry the father of his young friend Bosie who had accused him of being a sodomite. Three days into the trial Wilde dropped the case and was himself arrested and charged with “unnatural acts” with other men.

John Gorick does a superb job as a terse, poised Wilde, carving out a strong line from the wronged accuser to the accused, yet all the while portraying a self-obsessed individual who perceives himself as part of an elite. The somewhat static courtroom drama is countered as Rupert Mason and William Kempsell are given reign by director Peter Craze to portray 13 of the characters in those trials, from Wilde’s ineffectual lawyer, to the sneering Queensberry and a series of young men with whom Wilde was accused of performing illegal acts.

There is a somewhat prurient fascination here in watching Wilde’s shifting moral compass. Writers John O’Connor and Wilde’s grandson, Merlin Holland, have ensured that there is plenty of context – Wilde’s barbed point about a brothel being close to the Houses of Parliament is well made. Without attempting to excuse Wilde, this portrays a man whose own arrogance helped precipitate a downfall that was engineered not for what he did, but what he stood for.

More on the European Arts Company

Thom Dibdin

  • Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
  • May 10, then touring until July 12
  • Authors: Merlin Holland, John O’Connor
  • Director: Peter Craze
  • Producers: European Arts Company
  • Cast includes: John Gorick, Rupert Mason, William Kempsell
  • Running Time: 2hrs 20mins

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The Stage is a British weekly newspaper and website covering the entertainment industry, and particularly theatre. It was founded in 1880. It contains news, reviews, opinion, features, and recruitment advertising.