Theatre review: In Extremis at the King’s Head Theatre

Neil Bartlett’s play about Oscar Wilde’s meeting with a palm reader the night before ‘the trial of the century’ is an intriguing piece, writes Emily Govan

On the night of March 24 1895, Mrs Robinson, a society palm reader, agreed to see Oscar Wilde in her London flat. It was just one week before what was billed as the ‘trial of the century’ as Wilde was charged with sodomy.

Neil Bartlett’s play, In Extremis, attempts to reveal and understand the strange turmoil of that night. Bartlett conjures up the story of that afternoon and how it may have panned out: Wilde in a state of desperation, unsure whether he should stay in the country and face his legal battle or flee to the safety of France.

Faced with this choice, was his fateful decision based on the advice he received that night? We are left with the question remaining of what really happened that afternoon in the London room between the master storyteller and the palm reader.

Caroline Devlin directs this version of In Extremis, a two-hander. You only hear Wilde’s voice after a number of minutes of Mrs Robinson (Kate Copeland) speaking. Until then, Wilde (Nigel Fairs) merely poses majestically in chair, with electric cigarette in hand. Fairs is elegant and impressive as Wilde, but the graceful fa�ade quickly gives way to the desperation of a man in crisis. Copeland is engaging as the palm reader but you are left wishing to hear more morsels of Wilde’s sparkling wit.

The set is intimate and sparse, perfect for the production on this play, and the costume design is spot on. You don’t necessarily have to know much about the life and work of Oscar Wilde to enjoy this short play, but if you do not, it will surely pique your interest.

And for those who are already aficionados of a man who is widely known as one of the greatest wits, this is also well worth a look. An intriguing play.

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* There are four more performances of In Extremis at the King’s Head Theatre in Upper Street, N1. This Sunday (December 2), Monday (December 3) and two next Sunday (December 9). Call 020 7478 0160 for tickets.