Theatre review: The Judas Kiss at Hampstead Theatre

Rupert Everett makes triumphant return to Hampstead Theatre in play telling Oscar Wilde’s life story

�The life of Oscar Wilde, especially his latter years, is as ready made for theatrical re-enactment as the handful of celebrated plays he penned in his 46 years.

With a subject as remarkable as Wilde, playwright Sir David Hare could not have been short of content to work with when devising The Judas Kiss back in 1998. But take nothing away from Hare – virtually all of the dialogue in this play is the product of his own imagination, save the spontaneous appearance of a wickedly clever Wilde line here and there.

The script is a sheer delight and as much a reflection of Hare’s writing talent as it is an insight into the downfall of one of Victorian Britain’s greatest minds.

With Rupert Everett playing Wilde and Freddie Fox as young Lord Alfred Douglas, known as Bosie, director Neil Armfield has managed casting perfection.

Watching Everett and Fox on stage together is an engrossing spectacle of man and boy.

In act one, Everett has all the charisma, wit and intellect that made Wilde such a superstar.

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He carries himself as the elder statesman throughout but by act two, and the passing of two years’ imprisonment, the stature is gone and all that remains is a withered shell.

Bosie is a consistently odious character who seems to lack a single redeeming feature, an opinion reinforced by his final act of abandonment, leaving Wilde in Naples and returning to England and the promise of money from mummy.

Fox is a precocious talent and one to watch in the future but as the stage lighting falls upon a haunting soliloquy from Wilde, it is Everett’s return to Hampstead that seems most triumphant.

* The Judas Kiss is at the Hampstead Theatre, Eton Avenue, NW3, until October 13. Box office 020 7722 9301.