Preview: Rupert Everett stars as Oscar Wilde in play telling writer’s extraordinary life story

Tim Lamden speaks to Everett’s co-star Freddie Fox and director Neil Armfield ahead of The Judas Kiss opening at Hampstead Theatre

Since his death in 1900, Oscar Wilde’s literature has continued to enthrall generation upon generation the world over.

There is no doubting his body of work stands the test of time but it is his extraordinary life story, particularly his ill-fated love affair with aristocrat Lord Alfred Douglas, which generates most intrigue.

Wilde’s romance with the young lord, known as Bosie, and his consequent demise has captivated the British public ever since.

In 1998, Sir David Hare penned The Judas Kiss, a theatrical exploration of Wilde’s tumultuous relationship with Bosie, leading to the playwright’s imprisonment, calamitous fall from grace and ultimately death at the age of 46.

Next Thursday, the play begins a 38-day residency at the Hampstead Theatre, in Eton Avenue, Swiss Cottage, with film star Rupert Everett taking on the role of Wilde alongside young actor Freddie Fox, who plays Bosie.

Director Neil Armfield, credited with nurturing some of Australia’s finest actors such as Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush, said: “It’s one of the greatest stories in English culture, the way that Wilde’s life kind of echoed the predictions of his art. I think subconciously he turned his life into a work of art.”

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The play explores two key moments in Wilde’s life, which Armfield describes as the “two mysteries” - the eve of his arrest for sodomy and a night after his release from two years’ imprisonment.

According to Armfield, the explanation for both “mysteries” lies in Wilde’s “love affair with Bosie”.

At the age of 23, Fox is perfectly poised to play Bosie, who Hare introduces to the play at the same age.

Speaking from rehearsals last week, Fox said: “The reason Bosie fell in love with Oscar was because he was the most extraordinary mind in the world.

“He was celebrated before his plays and poetry for his personality. He was an incredible wit and pillar of society. To be around that kind of brain was incredibly enticing to Bosie and to be around [Bosie’s] kind of beauty was incredibly enticing for Oscar.

“They fitted beautifully like a very unconventional jigsaw, they were at their happiest when they were together.

“You can’t have the calamity as great as the one which is created without love in there so in its way it is a very strange, upsetting love story.”

The Judas Kiss opens at the Hampstead Theatre next Thursday and runs until October 13. To book tickets, call 020 7722 9301 or visit