The Judas Kiss. By David Hare. Directed by Karina Hudson. Mockingbird Theatre. The Courtyard Studio. Canberra Theatre Centre. Until August 5. For ages 16+: contains udity and adult themes. Bookings: canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 62752700.
Director Karina Hudson’s production of David Hare’s The Judas Kiss opens with Cardogan Hotel staff Arthur (played by Cole Hilder) and Phoebe (Meaghan Stewart) romping naked in pleasurable heterosexual lust. Victorian England, however disapproving, would regard their frolic as natural. Not so the judgment against Oscar Wilde (Chris Baldock) for gross indecency and engaging in “the love that dare not speak its name.”
It is the night of Oscar Wilde’s impending arrest and loyal and devoted friend Robbie Ross (Patrick Galen-Mules) urgently pleads with Wilde to leave England before the police arrive. Wilde’s churlish young lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, nicknamed Bosie (Liam Jackson), resists Ross’s attempts and urges Wilde to remain to fight the injustice of the charges, with dire consequence.
Act Two, in stark contrast, opens in a room in Naples shortly after Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol. He is a broken man, tired and destitute, attended by Bosie who is now obsessed with his Italian lover, Galileo (Ben Russell). Destiny has driven Wilde to the depths, tormented by his love for the self-obsessed Bosie, defiantly obdurate to the advice of the devoted Robbie and seemingly hell bent on destiny’s inevitable path to self-destruction.
Hare’s plays are purposefully political and unapologetic in their criticism of social and political injustice. Hare’s Wilde is “a man more sinned against than sinning”, and a naïve victim of his moral integrity and society’s unjust laws.
Mockingbird Theatre makes its impressive theatrical debut in Canberra with The Judas Kiss. Times have changed and Hare’s biographical drama, though brilliantly written, lacks some of its initial political clout. Much of its power lies in the quality of performance. Hudson’s direction is perceptive and sensitive to the complexity of Hare’s principal characters. She charts the rising tension of the first act with deliberate pacing and fully exploits the economy of stillness and contrast in the second act. As Wilde, Baldock creates a monumental performance, charged with flashes of flamboyance and ironic wit under stress in the first act, counteracted in Act Two by dark despondency and the aching pain of love’s betrayal. His is one of the finest dramatic performances one is likely to see by a local theatre company.
He is well supported by Liam Jackson as the petulant, unbearably selfish Bosie. Patrick Galen-Mules as Robbie gives a delicately and beautifully understated performance of rejected devotion. Both Jackson and Galen-Mules are talented emerging actors who successfully embrace the dramatic intensity of their roles, but need to hone their vocal technique during the quieter moments.
Mockingbird Theatre has made an auspicious debut on the Canberra stage and this powerful and moving production of The Judas Kiss is one that you won’t want to miss.
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