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The Judas Kiss

Photo by John Marmaras

Red Line Productions and the sponsorship of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras presents, THE JUDAS KISS, by David Hare, at the Old Fitz Theatre, Cathedral St, Woolloomooloo, 15 February -11 March.

THE JUDAS KISS, is a play by David Hare, written in 1998. Neil Armfield Directed it for Belvoir St Theatre, a few years ago, and Directed it again in 2013 in London to acclaim, apparently, making a claim for the play’s reputation that it had failed to establish in its first outing. The First Act of the play occurs on the 5th of April, 1895, in a room of a London Hotel, the Cadogan, on the night on which Wilde must decide whether to stay in England, and face imprisonment, or not. The Second Act occurs two years later, on the 3rd December, 1897, after Wilde’s release from prison, in the Villa Guidice at Posillipo, near Naples.

This is a new production, Directed by Iain Sinclair, at the Old Fitz Theatre in Woolloomooloo. David Hare is one of the great British contemporary writers and to hear the writing of Mr Hare, with his ‘glorious’ use of language, and to observe the dramaturgical security in the construct of this play is almost reward enough to justify your time and money. It was a pleasure to feel safe with the playwriting in form and content – a not always guaranteed in contemporary Australian plays.

The performances in this work, by all the company, are also worth witnessing. The detail and theatrical intelligence of all, from the smaller supporting roles to the principal participants create a virtual reality of full life-force stories, evolving. There are no roles of mere function going on in this production. Luke Fewster (Arthur Wellesley) and Hannah Raven (Phoebe Cane), as the servants of the hotel, from the first moment of the play create a robust theatrical coup with a fevered debauch of heterosexual appetite that is both gripping and exciting – further, surprising – and follow it up with the creation of three dimensional individuals pursuing the necessary needs of life as they employ their wiles for leverage of advantage.

Robert Alexander, as the Maitre ‘d, Sandy Moffatt, too, builds a portrait of an honourable and sympathetic servant with a sense of human decency far beyond the expectation of the circumstances he finds himself in, though not without some other sleight of sinister personality traits carefully, gently exposed.

Later, in the second act, David Soncin, in the role of Galileo Masconi, an Italian fisherman (fisher-of-men), who is sculpturally naked for all his appearances and speaks no language but Italian scorches a beautiful score of character storytelling, as well.

Josh Quong-Tart creates Oscar Wilde and carefully, mostly, catches the intellectual timbre and sense of mordant wit in the language that Hare has created for this famously erudite man. He also, plumbs the depth of irony and pained grief of Wilde betrayed by the man he has risked all for. He gives us a man fatally, blindly, in love with another who he comes to appreciate, at the last, is his Judas, who has acted towards him only out of a pursuit of power, not out of an reciprocated unconditional love. This Wilde is the bewildered private man without the more famous grander public mask of the defiant Dandy. Wounded by the public trial ‘savaging’ and staggering under its humiliation. The physical decay of the man, between the two time periods, is not embraced with enough detail of thought or expressive possession.

Hayden Maher, plays Lord Alfred Douglas – Bosie – and captures the handsome youthfully petulant and distorted selfishness of the man with lightening flashes of a changing temperament. Mr Maher swiftly and easily switches the charm and the stored venom of Bosie with expertness, if, sometimes, relying on ‘volume of noise’ as a too oft repeated tool of affect. Both these actors are a match for each other in this horrible portrait of Eros, in conflict of motivation and understanding. They relish the language and ‘enjoy’ the opportunities of the writing, convincingly, together.

The outstanding performance is that of Simon London (EDWARD II, STRAIGHT) as the loyal friend of Wilde’s: Robert Ross. Mr London, creates the long held passion that Ross has for Wilde, the powerlessness of his good sense and the hurtful rejected offers of his ‘rescue’ plans and, of necessity, as go-between for wife, Constance, to Wilde. All of which is scaled beautifully through the language usage of his text and in the energies of his emotional presence and silent, still, physical deportment – the physical language speaks volumes of empathy. There is not a moment when the sentient care of this character is not reaching out, to Wilde. Their romantic past is revealed agonisingly in the ‘present’ of each of the scenes with Wilde and Bosie. Mr London’s is a performance of extraordinary perception and execution. The discipline is enigmatic, charismatic.

Besides the wretchedness of the lives of these passionate men of the play, Hare softly underlines the tragedy of Wilde’s persecution as a politically motivated discrimination of Race (Irish), Class (not of the aristocracy. It protected Lord Alfred from prosecution, there was evidence enough) and Sexuality (homosexual, bisexual), and implicates the British public’s attitude towards pornography, homosexuality and the use and misuse of the Law by the rich and powerful. Wilde always knew the odds stacked against him, but did what he did for love, even to a painful martyrdom, even, ultimately to the sacrifice of his disgraced wife and his two loved children, by association, and to his ability to write – the sacrifice of his art.

Mr Sinclair has collaborated with Designer, Jonathan Hindmarsh and Lighting Designer, Alexander Berlage. The First Act is an impressive heavily detailed, realistic recreation of a Victorian hotel room of the second half of the nineteenth century. The Second Act a contemporary stylised white-light blasted space of minimal realism. The First Act Design, is a relative aspirational failure, and ought , for me, to have been, similarly approached as that of the Second – a stylised solution – no matter the impressive execution of the scene change in the interval. The obstacles of set furnishings in the First Act leads to an unsatisfactory staging of the first Judas Kiss and denies the dramatic climax and irony of its full power. The period costuming by Antoinette Barbouttis is scrappy in its detailing and undermines the aesthetics of this group of men and their world – it looks mostly, ill-fitting – that may be due to budget restraints, of course.

Some say a cavalry corps
some infantry, some, again,
will maintain that the swift oars

of our fleet are the finest
sight on dark earth; but I say
that whatever one loves, is. – Sappho.

“Every man contains his own death as the fruit contains the stone” – Rilke.

“Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each man kills the thing he loves,
Yet each man does not die.” – Oscar Wilde: The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

Bosie does it with a Judas Kiss – twice. Heartbreaking.