With the sun shining gloriously, let us take you back to a bitterly cold Sunday evening in February…
While the rest of the country is wrapped up warm with hot chocolate and Downton Abbey, Living Literature members are braving the stormy British weather to venture out into London’s West End to fill their boots with literary indulgence.
And indulgence seems a fitting word for the subject of tonight’s event. A man for whom the terms decadence and flamboyance seem as if they were invented…of course the wonderfully witty Oscar Wilde.
We find ourselves in The Nelson Suites of The beautiful Charing Cross Hotel, sipping wine and scoffing canapés ready to be treated to the premiere performance of one-man play, Wilde without the Boy, performed by the highly talented Gerard Logan.
Synonymous with Dickens, Austen and Forster; Wilde is a quintessential figure of English literary history. So much so that his witty quips and nuances are still recited in popular culture today, at times perhaps even by those who may be unaware that they were sown from ‘Wilde’ roots.
However, like most known figures, there is often a side that is often overshadowed by the rose tinted glasses of literary history. Most people are aware that Wilde was imprisoned for two years for ‘acts of gross indecency’ (the crime of homosexuality), however this is often overlooked in favour of the (rightful) celebration of Wilde’s legacy of wonderful words, wit and paradigms, which spring to mind when remembering the writer.
Adapted by award winning playwright and producer Gareth Armstrong, Wilde Without the Boy is an adaptation of ‘De Profundis’, a love letter written to Wilde’s gay lover, Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas) whilst he was imprisoned in Reading gaol. Each prisoner was allowed to write one page a day and Wilde used the treasured space to cram every inch with his love, thoughts and feelings for Bosie. Today, it is often described as one of the most beautiful love poems ever written.
It is a simple spectacle. Using just a few props, Logan’s portrayal of Wilde is beautifully played. Dressed lavishly, as he would have done outside of prison, we view him in his grandeur; a Wilde who would not have deigned to let us see him in his prison clothes and anything less than a gentleman.
As it is adapted from his own words, it is honest, funny and although this is Wilde at his most vulnerable, his spirit is not broken, and he retains his humour and dignity through the wit and ‘Wilde-isms’ for Bosie, who effectively abandoned Wilde during his imprisonment.
This is a man who has been betrayed by someone to whom he gave everything…his love, his money, his soul. However, he had also been betrayed by a society who could not accept him for who he truly was. He was defined by a factor that should not matter to anyone but himself.
Over a meal after the play we reflected over the brilliant performance which revealed the more intimate side of Wilde. We were very lucky to see this premier performance which can surely only go on to do great things. As with so many historical figures, it’s fascinating to see their more personal side and something we really enjoy exploring at our events.
Although a desperately sad story, it feels beautiful and humbling to be allowed in to experience such a personal account of one man’s love, anger and sadness towards a lover who not only rejected him, but a system that could not accept him for the true man he really was.
Reading Gaol Photo courtesy of QuentinUK (http://www.panoramio.com/photo/32680955)